Elie Nahimama, Coordinator of HROC in Burundi for Innovations in Peacebuilding —Burundi.

Note: Two years ago Elie Nahimana of Innovations in Peacebuilding – Burundi (IPB) took over leadership of the moribund HROC program in Burundi. It had been beset with lack of any significant program, misuse and embezzlement of funds, loss of credibility with its funding organizations, staff disarray, and conflict with other Burundian Quaker and not-Quaker peace organizations. This is was challenging situation to enter, particularly as Elie was taking a significant cut is salary in order to do this sorely needed peacemaking work in Burundi. The accomplishments of the program in the last two years hav been remarkable. This includes

  • The need to train new staff untainted by prior procedures.
  • Investigate and rectify the issues left by the prior program.
  • Restore credibility with the funding agencies.
  • Develop new workshops to adequately meet the needs of a country in violent crisis.
  • Develop and implement proper reporting and accounting procedures.
  • Convince local government authorities that the work that IPB/HROC was doing was not subversive but promoting the peace and reconciliation of the country. This was not an easy task and required perseverance, trust, and credibility on Elie’s part.

I asked him to assess the program’s efforts over these last two years. I asked him five questions which he has responded to in this Report from Kenya. Dave Z.

I took over the position of IPB/HROC program Coordinator two years ago. It was during the full crisis due to the disagreement generated by the controversial third term mandate of President Nkurunziza Pierre. This political disagreement brought civil society organizations and opposition political parties to call for peaceful street protests to force the president to withdraw his candidacy. When the government tried to stop these protests, it resulted in confrontation between the police and the civilian population and finally to an attempted coup d’état that lasted for 24 hours in May 2015.

After that the security situation worsened until peace dialogues were organized by the IPB/HROC program where the stakeholders in the community accepted to bring to light the causes of their disagreements and identify nonviolent ways of overcoming them.

To assess the contribution of the IPB/HROC program during the last two years, the following questions are considered:

  • Has the program contributed to peace in Bujumbura and upcountry?
  • Has the program generated reconciliation between opposing parties?
  • Have participants left revenge and worked towards reconciliation?
  • Do you think you have saved lives from those who planned revenge or who might have been killed by the security forces?
  • What is your overall assessment of the work you have done in these last two years?
  • Has the program contributed to peace in Bujumbura and upcountry?

Since I joined IPB/HROC program, I led the program focusing on its 6th HROC principle which stipulates that: Trauma recovery and peace building efforts must happen simultaneously to mean that individuals healing from trauma and building peace between groups is deeply connected.

Knowing that the conflict was between groups in Bujumbura as well as upcountry, dialogues for peaceful coexistence between stakeholders of the conflict were not happening. For this reason IPB/HROC proposed a plan of action to its partners, the African Great Lakes Initiative, the American Friends Service Committee – Burundi and Quaker Service Norway who accepted to sponsor this project. Those dialogues were organized between local elected leaders from various political parties to help them prepare the ground to reinforce coexistence of the community by improving communication between those political leaders who were divided by the 3rd term issue for the presidency and to seek peaceful conflict management instead of violence.  The peace dialogues became spaces where stakeholders envisioned reinforcing their collaboration and confidence together.

In addition to the peace dialogues conducted to calm down the worsening situation, the HROC Program in Schools complemented the change with students that we are experiencing now.

According to participants’ testimonies that were supported by the evaluation report conducted by a private consultant, the result of these peace activities  initiated by the  IPB/HROC program is the core of the peacefulness that is now there. The contribution of IPB/HROC program to peace in Bujumbura is confirmed by a case study conducted by Joseph NINDORERA, a private consultant, in March this year in two targeted zones of Bujumbura. The case study covers the peace dialogues activities [email me at davidzarembka@gmail.com if you would like a copy of this evaluation].  In addition the IPB/HROC programs including HROC basic workshops and the HROC Program in Schools were not assessed by this report.

Note the man in uniform from the security forces participating in the peace dialogue.

– Peace dialogues helped to overcome fear and improve the communication between the local government heads of a quarter including the security forces and the population. “At the same time there was an awareness of potential conflicts and the way to overcome them through improvement of the quality of services offered to the population,”  commented the elected quarter head from Nyakabiga.

– Peace dialogues contributed to peaceful coexistence between political party members as a response to the communication established at the community level and at the zone level. This made it possible for them to sit together in joint meetings to discuss what caused them trauma and how to overcome their frustration.

– On the side of youth the case study reported that the peace dialogues improved their consciousness of their own role and ways to contribute to safer communities. This was a precondition for community development and wellbeing that youth aspire to when participating in political claims.

– Peace dialogues allowed police and youth to meet together and improve communication between them through different activities such as playing soccer or planting trees. The participation of national intelligent agents in these peace dialogues became an additional value toward peaceful coexistence for the civilian population.

After testifying that peace was regained through the IPB/HROC program contribution, the private consultant recommended to the IPB/HROC program support peace dialogues with economic opportunities for youth to address poverty which was cited as a driver of political conflict. Another recommendation was for youth to become motivated to engage in political activities by organizing peace dialogues with the top political leadership since this was the key to ending the current political conflict.

As proof of that peace, international organization started sponsoring economic opportunities for youth from different affiliation in different zones of Bujumbura.

  • Has the program generated reconciliation between opposing parties?

The program met in joint peace dialogues in zones that participated in demonstrations and those that opposed them. This was done in three steps. First dialogues between the two neighboring zones, then all zones forming the same commune, and finally representatives from all the three communes forming Bujumbura mayorship. At each level the task of collaboration continued reinforcement.

Some zones initiated peace activities to call for repatriation of those who left they own zones and fled in other zones. This actions of repatriation also reinforced reconciliation between ancient neighbors.

Testimonies collected at the community level showed that IPB/HROC program generated reconciliation between opposing parties.  For instance, the case study report recommended, To take stock of the Peace and Democracy Group [PDG] example to institutionalize it in all the zones of IPB/HROC program intervention. This was due to the fact that PDG succeeded to generate reconciliation between opposing parties. With support from IPB/HROC partners this expansion took place in the following months.

Beside this the program succeeded to reconcile individuals from opposing parties. See this testimony, I was forced to leave my home when I was threatened by my neighbors after I witnessed protestors burning a young man accused of being an Imbonerakure [youth militia affiliated with the ruling political party] during the protest movements in Nyakabiga. I decided to leave for a short time and, when I was invited in the training by HROC together with my aggressors, I learned much on the consequences of trauma and learned how to be aware of my personality. This workshop made me change and I apologized to my aggressors. Today we are friends. a women member of the ruling party in Nyakabiga.

A peacebuilding exercise at the peace dialogue.

  • Have participants left revenge and worked towards reconciliation?

According to participants, the training on trauma healing gave them confidence and helped them overcome fear to start to communicate with those people they considered as enemies. For instance, they underlined that “Johari’s window” session improved their self-awareness and what they should improve to rebuild their personality. They appreciated also the non-violent conflict management and leadership workshops. All these helped to break their silence to open up and expand their comfort zone by meeting other people they were afraid to talk to.

They understood that their political affiliation should not be a source of conflict because being of a political ideology is similar to having different religious beliefs. This was cited by many participants during the peace dialogues and repeated on the case study according to Joseph NINDORERA. They are people who regretted their behaviors and begged for pardon and this became the starting point to afford reconciliation as the testimony below testifies this.

One night I was molested at my house by almost a hundred young protestors from Mutakura and Buterere. They accused me of having recruited young people from Kinama to attack protestors. When they came, I opened the door of my house. They realized that no strange person was hosted in my house and they went back. I recognized some of them and they came to ask for pardon and I realized that most of the young people react based on rumors and fear, one CNDD-FDD [the ruling party] league member in Buterere.

The PDGs members, IPB/HROC program facilitators and other participants organized themselves into different groups. One example is the peace artisan movement made by university students who attended IPB/HROC program workshops who are involved with healing and reconciliation in their respective communities. Individuals have been reporting how they contributed to manage conflicts in their community, leading to reconciliation in some cases.

We have many testimonies of participants who after the workshop decided to avoid the revenge they were planning and decided to work towards reconciliation. We met even those who had been planning to kill their own parents or members of their family.

  • Do you think you have saved lives from those who planned revenge or who might have been killed by the security forces?

After the collaboration framework at the end of each peace dialogue was established, the police and national intelligent service accepted to work together with local leaders to investigate together the cases of people arrested in their community. Since that time the number of people arrested or disappeared was decreased from quarters.

Our facilitators also were able to approach local leaders and made follow ups in cases of arrests. There are even cases where police accepted to convince other police to not use violence in their work.

Today, there are also new local organizations founded by those who participated in IPB/HROC program workshops and peace dialogues such as “Together as One”  a new local organization operating in Musaga zone to promote peace in that area. Other actions are encouraged to limit violence and its consequences today.

  • What is your overall assessment of the work you have done in these last two years?

My overall assessment of the work done in these last two years through the IPB/HROC program was a courageous act taken by Quakers organizations in the image of what  they did since the 1993 crisis in Kibimba and Kamenge areas since 1999. IPB/HROC program is a holistic program combining healing and building peace and a real solution to the situation the country went through since its colonial period. The experience learnt through different program including the HROC basic workshops and HROC Program in School is a cure to heal and rebuild the country.

The result of the IPB/HROC program work in the last two years is a starting point that can lead to a new generation that is healed and has mastered nonviolent conflict management. This generation should be a new foundation to rebuild a country where a culture of peace has a special place.

 (ii)  HROC seminars were conducted in 27 secondary schools where more than 2000 pupils who had participated in demonstrations against the third term. This program assisted them to continue their studies peacefully and sit for the scheduled national tests.

(iii) a HROC Program in School assisted a number of primary school teachers to overcome their own trauma to allow them teaching children without causing them harm or any kind violence as result of their healing.

This program led students in secondary school through healing from the trauma caused by loss of their beloved family members and loss of parental affection due to home violence caused by trauma held by parents.

It also reached university students, many who were born after the 1993 crisis which exposed them to trauma. As result some still lack trust between parties opposed to the election and parties allied to the government.

Participants in peace dialogues were invited to put in place a framework of collaboration between political parties to sustain the peace dialogue outcomes after the project following the HROC Peace and Democracy Group model established in 2010.

PDG are cited as having played a key role in the improvement of security and intergroup relations in different areas of Bujumbura. It is recognized as having established connections with all actors involved in the conflict to call for nonviolent conflict management that avoids loss of life and assets. The group is cited as an example in the sensitization of actors to start a dialogue, in the direct protection of persons and assets to avoid any form of revenge on the population, in training on trauma healing and nonviolent conflict management as well as in supporting parties in conflict to join the peace movement promoted by PDGs.   

End note: Please congratulate Elie Nahimana on his inspiring work with peacebuilding in Burundi. Send him an email at nahelie2@gmail.com.

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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 (FCPT). 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: 240/813-0748
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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