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Genocide: Burundi

Genocide in Burundi: 1972

An Annotated Bibliography Compiled by Devin Smart

Historical Overview

During 1972 in Burundi, Tutsi-led government forces and other collaborating Tutsi massacred an estimated 100,000-200,000 Hutu, as well as other Tutsi who attempted to stop the violence. Burundi is located in the Great Lakes region of Africa and is the southern neighbor of Rwanda, and, like Rwanda, has tragically suffered from genocidal violence. Burundi was a part of the Ruanda-Urundi colony (present-day Rwanda and Burundi) that was controlled by Belgium until the early 1960s, and, like in Rwanda, the Tutsi were the minority of the population.

Tensions in the 1960s between the Hutu and Tutsi escalated as they both vied for control after independence. In 1966, the army, led by Michel Micombero, seized power and quickly began to exclude Hutu influence in government. However, as scholar René Lemarchand has shown, the cause of the 1972 genocide was not simply a matter of the politically dominant and homogeneous Tutsi attempting to wipe out the opposing Hutu, but was also precipitated by conflict between Tutsi struggling to control the government. The regional and ethnic group represented by Micombero was moving to consolidate its power at the expense of other Tutsi, and, as a result, the oppressed Hutu could see the power of the government weakening.

With this perceived opportunity, a group of Hutu attempted a coup against Micombero’s government. The Hutu violently tried to seize power and killed between 2,000-3,000 Barundi — most of whom were Tutsi. However, following the initial Hutu violence, the Tutsi forces began a genocide against any Hutu who may have—or could potentially—pose a threat to its power. As the scholar Lemarchand writes: “What followed was not so much a repression but a hideous slaughter of the Hutu populations.”[1] The perpetrators went through the country and massacred Hutu from primary and secondary schools, colleges, the army, churches, and other sectors that gave the impression of status. In May of 1972, Time magazine observed how easily a Hutu could be murdered by writing that those Hutu being killed were “practically anyone who can write his own name or afford a hut with a corrugated-iron roof instead of a thatched one.”[2]

By the end of the genocide, Hutu leadership had been devastated and between 100,000-200,000 people had been killed.


The genocide in Burundi in 1972 is widely underwritten about in English-language sources. Consequently, much of what is available is academically oriented. Within this, scholar René Lemarchand’s book Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide should be the starting place for anyone who is interested in the subject.

Chrétien, Jean-Pierre. The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. Translated by Scott Straus. New York: Zone Books, 2003.

  • This is a history of the Great Lakes region as a whole, but significant portions of the book focus on the historical background of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict.

Lemarchand, René. Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide. New York: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996.

  • This is the best treatment of the 1972 genocide in Burundi - and other conflicts in the country - available in English. Lemarchand emphasizes the need to not simply view the conflict in Burundi as only Tutsi against Hutu, but rather in a more complex way that considers how tensions within the Tutsis have also contributed to the violence. Additionally, Lemarchand considers the relationship of Rwanda and Burundi, and how violent incidents in one affected the other.

Melady, Thomas P. Burundi: The Tragic Years. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1974.

  • Melady was the United States Ambassador to Burundi from 1969 until 1972. This book provides the reader with some firsthand descriptions of the conditions in the country during this period, and it can also give a personal perspective of how the genocide was viewed from the United States.

Weinstein, Warren, and Robert Schrire. Political Strategies and Ethnic Conflict: A Case Study of Burundi. Syracuse, NY: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, 1976.

  • This is an academically-geared study written shortly after the genocide (1976) that looks at the causes of the violence. Important for Weinstein and Schrire in their conclusion is how central ethnicity became to how these groups (Tutsi and Hutu) interacted and competed politically.


[1] René Lemarchand, Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide (New York: Woodrow Wilson Center, 1996), 97.

[2] “Double Genocide,” Time, June 26, 1972, 35.


Devin Smart is a graduate student in the History Department at Western Washington University. He is studying African and European history and has a particular interest in the history of the Great Lakes region and Eastern Africa. He welcomes any questions about genocide in Burundi and Rwanda, or any others that may relate.

To contact Devin, please send an email to NWCHE@wwu.edu. We will forward your comments to him.