Will Nelson Mandela ever stop astounding and humbling the world by the force of his moral vision and the transformative authority of his personal courage and conviction? Not soon, we hope.

Fresh from the peaceful transfer of power he presided over upon his retirement as president of South Africa last year, in January Mandela plunged into the even more intractable political turmoil that has gripped Central Africa for the better part of a decade. The genocide that momentarily propelled Rwanda onto the front pages and TV news in 1994 is well known, if not well understood by those outside of Africa (see, "Never Again? The Church & Genocide in Rwanda," Commonweal, November 5, 1999). Rwanda’s neighbor, Burundi, long wracked by violent conflict, now seems similarly poised on the precipice of some unimaginable horror. Mandela hopes to avert that possible outcome while negotiating an end to the civil war that has devastated Burundi’s economy and terrorized its 6 million people. It would appear to be a near impossible task-but then, Mandela has pulled off miracles in the past.

As in Rwanda, the fighting in Burundi pits the ethnic minority Tutsi against the majority Hutu. In Burundi, however, the power relationship is reversed, and it is the civilian Hutu population that is most threatened. Since taking power by force in 1993, the Tutsi-led government and army have been fighting various Hutu insurgencies. The...

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