Blog Post

Rwanda and Burundi: 50 years of Independence

July 1, 2012

Rwanda and Burundi are celebrating 50 years of independence. Ahead of the anniversary, I traveled to both countries with my colleague Kevin Mwachiro to report on how these two tiny African nations have developed since independence and look at their prospects. Below are the television packages we filed on each country.

Over the last 50 years, both countries have been plagued by bloody ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi that cost many lives. The worst killings occurred in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Over the course of 100 days Hutu extremists killed as many as 1 million people. Today those tensions have largely subsided but there is little freedom of speech, especially in Rwanda. We had no problems filming in either country, but in Rwanda we could not find anyone who was willing to criticise the government on camera.

On the economic front, Rwanda has undergone a radical transformation. It has a good reputation for fighting corruption and is attracting foreign investment. The capital Kigali is very safe and one of the cleanest cities in Africa. It is also one of the most wired capitals on the continent and is banking on becoming the silicon valley of Africa.

The credit for this remarkable turnaround goes to it’s President Paul Kagame. But this has come at a big price. Kigame does not tolerate criticism of any kind. Outspoken journalists and politicians have been imprisoned, disappeared or died in mysterious circumstances.

Over in Burundi, it’s a different story. The economy is still heavily reliant on exports of coffee. There is a lot of corruption and very little investment has flowed into the country. Unemployment is very high and it remains one of the poorest counties in the world.

Burundi’s ethnic tensions were drawn out over a much longer period than in Rwanda and it is only in the last few years that democracy has been restored to the country. President Pierre Nkurunziza also does not take kindly to criticism and the opposition has largely been kept out of parliament.

But despite being the poorer cousin of the two. Burundi appears to have fared much better in one key area. Unlike Rwanda, people have been allowed to speak openly about ethnic politics. The result is that the country appears to have put this dark chapter of its past behind it. The people we spoke to were all keen to get on with their lives. The violence that now occurs tends to be political rather than ethnic.

But over in Rwanda, it’s illegal to refer to someone as Hutu or Tutsi. The whole ethnic issue has largely been swept under the carpet and you get the impression that it has not been properly dealt with and could one day surface again.

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