From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi

Last week’s assassination of American Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya was a horrific reminder of the dangers faced by American diplomats serving abroad. Stevens was the first Ambassador to be killed while on duty since Francis Meloy was killed in Lebanon in 1976, during another especially tumultuous period in US – Arab relations.

But in the intervening years, other ambassadors have survived assassinations. One in particular, Robert Krueger, served as the US Ambassador to the east African country of Burundi from 1994 to 1996.

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Burundi Robert Krueger

Krueger began his service in one of several devastating periods in Burundi’s history, after Burundi’s first ethnic Hutu president was killed and approximately up to 300,000 Hutus and Tutsis were subsequently massacred. (For a chronology of Burundi’s history, click here: http://tinyurl.com/9r8b3bw)

Unlike Chris Stevens in Libya, Krueger was not a career diplomat with extensive experience in the region he served. He was a political appointee, chosen by President Clinton after a failed run for a Senate seat.

Krueger’s lack of experience in the great lakes region did not keep him from engaging deeply in the Burundi’s many problems. Like Stevens, he used his position as ambassador to try to bring stability to a struggling country trying to overcome a legacy of repression and political violence. I had the recent opportunity to speak with Krueger from his home in New Braunfels, Texas, and he reflected on the role of American diplomats in supporting fragile states: “If we turn our backs on a place like Libya, we are missing an opportunity to stand with those who are truly struggling for freedom.”

As ambassador, Krueger not only gathered information on political killings and passed his reports on to Washington, but on several occasions traveled to the unstable countryside to personally investigate. On one occasion he nearly paid with his life as his convoy come under fire while government soldiers supposedly guarding his group did nothing.

Kruger details his experiences in the book he and his wife Kathleen wrote together, From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi, a book I highly recommend, and one I’m looking forward to re-reading as I prepare to visit Burundi in January for the first time.

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