In This Review

Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice
Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice
By René Lemarchand
Cambridge University Press, 1994, 206 pp.

Burundi's postcolonial history is a tangled tale of tribal, factional, and regional competition punctuated by horrific massacres each time the dominance of the country's Tutsi ethnic minority has been threatened by a credible challenge. "Nowhere else in Africa," says Lemarchand, writing before Rwanda's 1994 holocaust, had "so much violence killed so many people on so many occasions in so small a space as in Burundi." This skillful and timely study examines both the historical conflict and the meta-conflict -- the different self-serving beliefs and explanations of conflict perpetuated by the competing groups in their public discourse. Completed just before the October 1993 assassination of Burundi's first elected Hutu head of state, Melchior Ndadaye, the book explores the courageous efforts of Pierre Buyoya, Ndadaye's Tutsi predecessor, to initiate perestroika in Burundi despite opposition from hardline Tutsi elements in his army. Without going into detail on the contrasting politics of neighboring Rwanda, Lemarchand takes into account the psychological and demographic impact on Burundi of Rwanda's history of ethnocidal conflict. Predicting Burundi's political future is risky now. But it will certainly be a test of one society's collective capacity to correct itself under the pressure of some of the world's most haunting historical memories.