ACORD and the Burundian conflict

By Basilisa Ndayigiza

Since its independence, Burundi is besieged by a conflict situation characterized by cyclical inter-ethnic violence. This political conflict with ethnic dimensions has reached its peak with the advent of multiparty system and above all since the murder of a democratically elected president in 1993 when the conflict until then latent broke out. Local populations affected by the conflict:

At the early stage of the conflict, the grassroots populations were subjected to violence including killings, house destruction and pilferage, etc. This led to a massive displacement of people towards refugee's centres and even to the neighbouring countries while hatred and suspicion among various ethnic and political groups were prevailing.

It ensued a rampant poverty of the population coupled with destabilisation at all levelsPeace and reconciliation process

To overcome this deadlock, the government together with political parties have initiated peace negotiations after which a peace and reconciliation accord was signed in August 2000 in Arusha. The rebel movements who felt they were ousted from the process went on creating chaos and despair. This makes the peace accord fragile.

However, the government went ahead and negotiates with the rebels. It is only after the signing and the implementation of the cease-fire accords with the CNDD-FDD main armed faction of Pierre Nkurunziza in December 2003 that calm was restored to a greater part of the territory. Unfortunately, a wing of the rebel movement named FNL which, until then failed to sign the cease-fire, pursued its rebel activities in rural Bujumbura. It is only last May 2005 that the Burundian government and FNL-PALIPEHUTU declared the immediate end to the warfare which is to be followed by a cease-fire agreement.

At political level, it is worth noting the efforts of the international community to make Burundi a land of peace by sending a UN mission to support the effective implementation of various peace accords and cease-fire and to back the democratisation process of the current institutions.

ACORD contribution to the Burundi peace process

According to the analysis made by ACORD of the Burundian conflict and the solutions brought about by politicians, the peace accord has been first of all negotiated by the political-cum-military elite excluding the grassroots be it at physical or psychological levels while the latter were those who suffered most the consequences of the war and the conflicts. The grassroots populations lost heir properties and their relatives and continue to wander about in the refugee camps far away from their natural habitat.

In the eyes of the ordinary citizen more concerned with his survival and with issues related to his peculiar interest namely the recovery of his properties, the restoration of his rights, the resumption of his children schooling, the recuperation of his lands, a peaceful life with his neighbours victimised by the war effects and globalisation, the Arusha negotiations seem to deal rather with macro-political issues which the man in the street has no control of. The restoration of a peaceful coexistence will then be linked to the emergence of social, community and inter-ethnic negotiation dynamics at local level.

It is against this background and above all with a view to giving a local content and close approach to the Arusha Peace Accord that ACORD has been implementing since 2003 the 'Support Programme to local initiatives of Burundi split communities rapprochement'.

ACORD promotes the creation of negotiation space to facilitate peaceful coexistence.

While the topic of conflict is dealt with as a crosscutting issue in ACORD programmes, a thematic programme on conflict, as an engine of split communities' rapprochement is under way in four districts of the country since a year and a half.

The idea is to support near community negotiation workshops in each targeted district by the pilot programme in order to bring the grassroots to the negotiating table regarding specific coexistence issues linked to their local, immediate and long term interests. Having considered their conflicting interests, the root causes and how they impact on each other, the communities define their own local peace programme comprising common specific strategies and activities which are supposed to lead to a better rapprochement. Following these workshops, coexistence plans are developed and signed and monitoring committees are elected.

ACORD supports the preparation of negotiation mechanisms, the organisation of workshops, the designing of plans of action structures, and the process of setting up of committees as well as the streamlining of the process implementation in various regions. ACORD also supports the implementation of negotiated peace projects that can serve as a meeting framework and social contracts sustainability.

In 2004, about thirty community negotiations workshops each of them grouping between 120 and 150 people were organised in 4 pilot municipalities of the project: Rugombo municipality in Cibitoke province, Rango municipality in Kayanza province, Buhiga municipality in Karusi province and Kamenge area in Bujumbura municipal council. These workshops are still under way in areas not yet covered in 2005.

The community negotiation workshops help people to understand the nature of conflict and to master the analysis and management tools then to enter into dialogue, to cast a retrospective look on the past in order to have an overall picture of their past life so as to reflect on what was amiss in the past and which could have been the root causes of conflict at local level. In a genuine dialogue, the communities engage into a direct and open dialogue and find an adequate framework to reconcile. Together, they sign a contract of peaceful coexistence at local level through which they commit themselves to a peaceful common life and elect a committee of delegates for the follow up.

Community negotiations: forgiveness and reconciliation as a pillar for peace

Paul and Marc are neighbours, dwellers of Rugombo municipality, Mparambo section. Paul and Marc are entertaining a latent conflict for more than three years. Jean Marie, the son of Marc died in a rebellion and his father never knew what the cause of this death was. By contrast, he was told that it is Eric, the son of Paul who dragged Jean Marie into a group of criminals. Eric and Jean Marie were involved at the same time in the rebellion. Since the news of the death broke out, Paul and Marc who were friends were no longer on speaking terms. On the contrary, a feeling of hatred, mistrust and above all revenge gradually sets in above all within Marc who was at all cost looking for the right time to avenge himself.

Now both men are invited to the same workshop for community negotiations. At the beginning, Marc could not believe his eyes when he saw Paul in one corner of the hall, both participating in the workshop. Marc was still nursing a feeling of hatred and revenge. However, he listened carefully to the concepts related to conflict, forgiveness and reconciliation. He had retained few ideas: latent conflict is dangerous for it blossoms one day into violences and when these are coupled with revenge, conflicts become cyclical and can wipe out the whole community. Marc intended to revenge but he started wondering: if I revenge, they too will revenge and we will continue loosing people in our families.

Paul in turn kept quiet; first he was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety when he noticed that Marc was still brooding over a feeling of revenge. He knew that forgiveness and reconciliation in the community could help them to patch up the missing links.

In the second day, both men reflected all night long and Paul was feeling ready to approach Marc and repent. Marc in turn no longer shared the same feelings of resentment as before; he was waiting for the second day to see how things will evolve. A change occurs in him:

During the workshop, the time for testimonies came: Paul recounted his story to the audience and asked Marc to forgive him on behalf of his son who was absent from the hall. He beseeched the audience to help him obtain that forgiveness for what had happened among their sons. He added that they had enjoyed good relationships and that the workshop on community negotiations seems to him a godsend.

Moved by Paul's words and above all by the workshop proceedings, he granted the forgiveness without dodging; he declared that what had happened to his son was perhaps the devil temptation. Both could become friends again as before.