Evolving Political Situation in Burundi

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This article was originally posted on January 29th, 2009 during AFJN’s trip to Burundi and Uganda. It appeared as a blog post on justicegreatlakes.blogspot.com. Reposted here April 14th, 2009.

Although many Burundians feel positive about the political shift in their country, some still hold skepticism about the sustainability of the current peace. The sound of gunfire may be rare today, but poverty is worsening, and for many, that is reason enough for renewed violence. President Nkurunziza has made some moves toward reconciliation, but his efforts to develop Burundi seem to be more talk than true action.

Elections will be held next year, in 2010, and most believe that there will be some level of tension. According to Fr. Claudio, it is already being called the “year of war.” However, I do feel optimistic as I speak with youth who want nothing more than the absolution of political and ethnic strife.

We spoke with two elders today who have lived through a colonized Burundi, a prosperous Burundi, a war-torn Burundi, and now a Burundi that is struggling to find itself. Married, the two have a unique perspective on the war – one is Hutu, the other is Tutsi. Their children grew up knowing and loving both, and none of them could understand the rationale behind the violence. It is clear that politicians used the Hutu/Tutsi divide to gain power and authority.

Before the war, many neighborhoods around the Kamenge Youth Center were mixed, but in the mid-1990’s, whichever tribe held the majority claimed the neighborhood, displacing the minority into another quarter. Only a couple of neighborhoods in Bujumbura remained neutral during the crisis, mostly due to the fact that they were predominantly foreigners (Tanzanians, Congolese, etc.) and/or Muslim. Gangs – most of them young men – in each neighborhood perpetuated the violence.

Interestingly, many of these gang members eventually joined the Kamenge Center. According to one Burundian, they killed until there was no one left to kill, and then found themselves drinking and getting high all day without purpose. They slowly trickled into the Center, scaring the other youth at first, but eventually recognizing that they could indeed live together peacefully.

But a lasting peace must be built on multiple levels. The elders we spoke with today believe that if there were 4 or 5 more Centers like the Centre Jeunes Kamenge, the threat of future violence would be drastically reduced. And although the reality of learning to live together may provide the best chance for peace, other elements must also be addressed. The International Center for Transitional Justice has a program on security sector reform, helping the police with technical details such as an identification process. Other NGO’s hold dialogue sessions between victims and criminals to help bring people back together. The independent Burundian media (often supported by Search for Common Ground) host radio programs on the peace process, demobilization, land conflicts, and transitional justice.

Efforts toward reconciliation are being made at all levels, but it will take a more significant political, social, and economic shift to truly bring Burundi out of the threat of conflict.

Posted by Beth Tuckey

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