“The was no way to predict or prepare for Rwanda.”
Not exactly true. In 1993, a year prior to the Rwanda genocide, a nearly identical scenario occurred in Burundi.
After years of Tutsi rule, Hutu political parties united in their support to elect Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, as President of Burundi. The Hutu parties succeeded, ousting the incumbent President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, in the country’s first democratic election.
Ndadaye was 40 years old. He had grown up during the intense ethnic wars of 1972. He studied at the University of Rwanda and at the National Academy of Arts and Trades in France. He sought to bridge the ethnic divide in Burundi by appointing Tutsis to top governments posts, including that of Prime Minister. But less than three months from taking office a coup erupted to removed the ruling Hutu government. On October 21, 1993, under the guise of protection, Tutsi security forces escorted Ndadaye and top government officials to a secret location, and murdered them.
The coup ultimately failed, but the President’s death sparked passion and anger across the country, fueled by radio and other mass media. Hutus attacked Tutsis in mass, neighbor against neighbor. The weapon of choice, the machete. The Tutsi-led army retaliated by killing tens of thousands of Hutu men, women, and children. Before long, an estimated 100,000 Hutu and Tutsi Burundians lay dead.
And the world was none the wiser.
Despite the lessons learned from Burundi, the United Nations remained ill-equipped to combat the ethnic massacres in Rwanda the following year. In July 1994, a plane carrying both the Rwandan President and the new President of Burundi crashed, igniting the bloodiest massacre in modern times. In a matter of months, a million men, women, and children were slaughtered by their own neighbors.
The Burundi Civil War continued until 2005, taking the lives of over a quarter million Hutus and Tutsis.
The wounds are slow to heal. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Today its people remember the horrors of 1993 and the assassination of President Molchior Ndadaye.