Renaming the Road of Death:
The Story of a Unique Peacemaking Project

By Elie Nahimana, Coordinator
Innovations in Peacebuilding—Burundi, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities

Will these plants thrive on the renamed “Road of Death”?

Description of need for the activity

In 1993, the mostly Tutsi residents of Nyakabiga zone of Bujumbura actively opposed the Hutu-dominated FRODEBU party that won the July 1993 democratic election. Youth from Nyakabiga organized themselves in two militia groups called “Never failed” (Sans echec in French) and “Never defeated” (Sans défaite). These two groups of youth engaged in massacres of educated Hutu living in the capital city of Bujumbura. They even intervened upcountry where Hutu had killed Tutsi.

   December 12, 2015: Shot down: Shocked locals stand near the covered body of a man killed by security forces in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura. DailyMailOnline.

February 25, 2017: Planting ornamental flowers on the “Road of Death” in front of a family compound in collaboration with the owner of the compound.

They adopted a system of killing people by forcing a car tire over the head and around the arms of the suspect, pouring petrol (gasoline) at the bottom of the tire, and setting it alight, burning the victim alive. [Note: During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa this same method, called “necklacing”, was used.] They called the place where they were committing these lynchings “the Road of Death” (Avenue de la Mort in French). The actual name of this road is Avenue de I’Imprimerie (Road of the Printing House). So many people lost their lives there under this tough period.

April 2015 confrontation between demonstrators and police.

In April 2015, when demonstrations against the third term of President Nkurunziza began, Nyakabiga zone was the place where politicians, along with young protestors, participated in demonstrations against the CNDD-FDD regime of President Nkurunziza. During the period of demonstrations young people and the local police fought each other. Once again the system of burning people alive using tires and fuel was applied in Nyakabiga zone not far from the Road of Death. In December 2015 after a rebel attack on a military outpost the Burundian military retaliated by killing at least 37 mostly young people in Nyakabiga.

Testimonies form workshops in Nyakabiga

On March 22, 2016, IPB/HROC held a peace dialogue for 17 youth from Nyakabiga. Here is the testimony one of the young women at the dialogue:

During the 2015 protests against the third term of President Pierre Nkurunziza my older sister collaborated with the security forces to capture me and kill me because I participated in demonstrations. I encountered so many difficulties because of her. From seeing someone we share the same parents, the same ethnic group (Tutsi) persecuting me, I developed a spirit of vengeance and I was trying my best to kill her as she had been doing. After this peace dialogue I come to learn how to behave towards those who hurt me and I feel comfortable with that. The forgiveness I come to learn I’m going to apply it first to my older sister as a way to overcome the traumatic state I feel in me. Thank you so much.

It was during the Bujumbura council peace dialogue on this February 17, 2017 that Eric Nkurunziza, the chief of Nyakabiga zone said the following:

I was Nyakabiga former communal administrator before it changed to be a zone. I did my best to refuse these Community Peace Dialogues to be organized in this zone. When the HROC Program Coordinator came to my office with invitations to be distributed I told him that the Mukaza communal administrator, thinking he was going to oppose this activity, would have to authorize these Peace Dialogues. Why did I do that? My confidence in leaders of local organizations had disappeared. When I saw them taking part in the demonstrations I was deceived and got shocked.

The HROC coordinator has shown himself to be a man with more wisdom. He succeeded to convince my superior and received a special authorization to conduct these Community Peace Dialogues in all of Bujumbura.

 When he came back to my office with an activity plan and invitations for distributing to participants I continued to believe I could stop it on the first day. I attended the whole four days to see they were not going to change their speeches. I followed carefully the presentations made by HROC facilitators and the coordinator himself and I went back home satisfied by HROC teachings.

Instead of stopping them I went back healed myself and the teachings allowed me to meet with groups of people I didn’t realize I could meet. The HROC Program organized all the chiefs, political party leaders, youth leaders of political parties, and policemen to discuss with all vicissitudes of life in our zone. They also touched questions that were considered taboo at that moment.

During HROC workshops and Peace Dialogues, people, particularly youth, from this zone regretted to have been born there as this makes them feel ashamed when they have to present their national IDs as a native of this zone.

After learning about trauma, leadership and nonviolent conflict management, all of them have confidence that peace and good coexistence is the priory needed by all. This led local leaders in Nyakabiga to plan far ahead and think of peaceful ways to foster peace and good coexistence in their zone. A number of peace initiatives were listed. As a way of breaking down the ethnic division boundaries they organized a visit to nearby Kinama zone [predominated inhabited by Hutu] considered to be friendly to the ruling party, CNDD-FDD.

A day of wide sensitization of peace and good coexistence in Nyakabiga zone

On Saturday, February 25 an initiative for internal healing and rebuilding our community was conducted with 120 participants, about half being youth. Two main activities marked the day. The first was to plant trees and flowers on the “Road of Death” and declare to refuse to say this name forever when talking. Inhabitants of the zone who wished to participate were given flowers and fruit trees to plant. They committed themselves to water them once the rain should stop until they were well rooted.

This was one of recommendations from the peace dialogue facilitated by HROC Program in Nyakabiga in August 2016 and January 2017. It was organized to plant trees on the commonly called “Road of Death” by youth, local police and the administration in the zone.

Description of the activity

Photo of a tree nursery near the Ntahangwa River where participants took trees and flowers.

Participants taking small trees from the nursery.

Photo illustrating how we transported the trees and plants from Ntahangwa River to the main road where a vehicle was waiting to transport them to the site to be planted.

A pick up vehicle to transport trees to the site for planting.

Planting trees by the road called commonly “Road of Death”.

Clearing trash where trees were being planted.

Children joined adults in this activity.

The chief police in Bujumbura Municipality joining his people in this work.

The HROC coordinator (center) planting a tree beside the chief of police at the municipal and communal levels.

The chief of Nyakabiga zone planting a tree

Some people stopped their cars and joined the work. each one planted at least three trees.

Second Activity: 45 minute mini-workshop

Participants who attended the mini-workshop.

Purpose of the day

As recommended during an interzone peace dialogue, Saturday, February 25 was a day to sensitize people about peace and promote good coexistence to heal and rebuild Nyakabiga zone as a community.

Description of participants

Participants were youth who participated in demonstrations, including those belonging to different local associations, the police working in Nyakabiga zone, the local administration, and other people interested in peace and good coexistence in Nyakabiga. There were also journalists working for the Ministry of Security and other TV stations such as Rema FM.

Agenda of the workshop

A HROC team of facilitators led by its National Coordinator Elie Nahimana, with Annette Niyugusaba and Innocent Harerimana gave a presentation on trauma, its definition, causes, symptoms, consequences and the ways to overcome it. This created recognition of the period of demonstrations and discussion about it between the administration, the police working in the zone, and representatives of the young people. Both sides regretted what happened in this zone and decided to live peacefully and oppose any people who should once again call them to commit violent actions contrary to human rights. This was followed by drinks and best wishes to each other for the New Year 2017. They committed to work together for the sake of peace.

Youth at the mini-workshop.

Update: Since we planted these trees, it has been raining every day. The chief of the quarter is sensitizing people to water them. If it happened that some trees die, Nyakabiga zone is willing to replace them.

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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.

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David Zarembka
Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765-4098
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/
Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com
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