Foreign policy blind spots: Rwanda and Burundi in the shadow of Kissinger

By Esther Muhozi
On 1 December 2023 at 03:04

On the front pages of major global newspapers, the primary headline centers around the demise of Henry Kissinger, who served as the Security Advisor and Secretary of State of the United States for eight years, spanning from 1969 to 1976.

Regarded as one of the most influential diplomats of the 20th century, Kissinger’s legacy elicits varied perspectives. While he is lauded for his crucial role in shaping American foreign policy, particularly in Asia and South America, critics argue that he operated autocratically and betrayed ethical principles, resulting in widespread turmoil and loss of innocent lives.

Kissinger’s involvement in international politics prominently featured his role in the Vietnam War, drawing both acclaim and condemnation. His influence extended to the establishment of dictatorships in countries such as Pakistan, Cambodia, and Chile, prompting accusations of orchestrating instability.

Despite his significant contributions to global affairs, Kissinger’s attention to Africa appears limited in historical accounts. His policies seemingly marginalized the continent, with scant evidence of initiatives aimed at fostering development. Notably, Kissinger’s reluctance to support African nations seeking independence, such as South Africa and Angola, is underscored.

A leaked WikiLeaks document from January 18, 1975, reveals the U.S. State Department’s response to economic support requests from Rwanda and Burundi. Kissinger’s office expressed reservations, citing limited U.S. interests in these nations. The document highlights ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi at the time as complicating factors for American intervention.

The document underscores Kissinger’s caution about involvement in conflicts arising from the volatile situation between the two ethnic groups. It suggests a prudent approach, emphasizing that the United States should avoid entanglement in the affairs of Rwanda and Burundi.

As Kissinger exited his role in U.S. foreign affairs, American policy towards African countries persisted, maintaining a stance that some argue views Africa more as a challenge than a collaborative partner. This perspective sharply contrasts with the strategies of other global players like China and Russia, who see Africa as an investment opportunity rather than a problem to be managed.

Kissinger’s impact on U.S. international policy in Africa remains enduring, molding the nation’s approach to the continent, albeit with mixed consequences and perceptions.

Regarded as one of the most influential diplomats of the 20th century, Kissinger's legacy elicits varied perspectives.