Monday, 11 February 2008

The legacy of Tutsi leaders

BBC News is reporting that arrest warrants have been issued in Spain for 40 Rwandan army officers, for crimes committed after the current government routed the regime responsible for the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group. They are accused of a retaliatory campaign of genocide against the Hutu ethnic group. The Rwandan government rejects the charges, and
it seems unlikely that Spain will be able to try many or any of the accused in the absence of overwhelming public evidence. A French charge related to the same period against senior Rwandan figures was made two years ago, and created diplomatic tensions.

A less well-known figure, but whose legacy is perhaps more notable and important for his country, is Pierre Buyoya, the former Tutsi President of Burundi. He came to power in a bloodless military coup in 1987 against another military leader, and initiated reforms which led to democratic elections in 1993. He lost the elections and became among the first ruling African leaders (perhaps the first) who was in a position to overturn an electoral loss, but chose not to do so.

The Hutu winner was assassinated shortly afterwards. I am unaware of any evidence that Buyoya was involved. There are better historians than me, but my reading on recent Burundian history does not show attribution of guilt even by historians who are critical of past Tutsi leaders.

Buyoya returned to power in a military coup against the democratic government in 1996, after an outbreak of civil war and the genocide against his ethnic group in Rwanda to the north. Whether his action had any justification, it did not receive the sympathy of surrounding states, who imposed an economic embargo against Burundi. In fact the leaders of Kenya and Uganda, to name two of those states, turned out to have fewer democratic credentials than Buyoya, who relinquished power for a second time in 2003.

Buyoya's legacy may be blackened by new evidence on his role in government. In a country with such division and civil strife, there may not be any unequivocally good leaders. But in the long run, Buyoya may be the closest to a national political hero to emerge from the ruling Tutsi elite since early post-independence. He may also be forgotten, though.

No comments: