This past weekend marked a troubling escalation in the crisis in Burundi, propelling the country ever closer to civil war.On Friday, an attack by rebels on six military bases was noteworthy for its scale and coordination.While the rebels soon pulled back, the attacks were embarrassing to the government.
After this weekend, the United States urged its citizens to leave as soon as possible.
The violence in Burundi was precipitated by President Pierre Nkurunziza's unconstitutional bid for a third term.
Also at risk for Burundi is a multimillion-dollar security partnership in which the United States supports the Burundian military, providing nearly a quarter of the troops in the multilateral fight against al Shabaab and al Qaeda in Somalia.
Last week, my colleague Joseph Siegle testified on the Burundi crisis before a Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee, and afterward, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked him what Congress can do to bring about peace in Burundi and prevent another genocide.
Since then, up to 200 bodies have appeared on the streets, many in civilian clothes and some with their hands bound.
This weekend was the deadliest in Burundi, the small central African country just south of Rwanda, since the current unrest began in April.While exact figures are difficult to corroborate, over the past nine months attacks by government-aligned youth militias on communities sympathetic to the opposition, and subsequent targeted assassinations by rebel and pro-government groups, have led to upward of 500 people being killed, and at least another 240,000 — 60 percent of whom are children — fleeing to neighboring countries.Now, as government leaders have begun to promulgate ethnic narratives to further their interests, some fear that the conflict could devolve into a Hutu versus Tutsi genocide, or a civil war akin to the one that cost 300,000 lives in the 1990s and early 2000s.In the exchange that followed, three things stood out:1. Let's be clear: Nkurunziza's third term lacks legitimacy.Widespread popular protests erupted the moment the president's intentions were announced in April.Some 130 officials from his own party petitioned him to step aside.