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Burundi: Kamenge Reconciliation Project
Burundi: Kamenge Reconciliation Project
Date distributed (ymd): 991020
Document reposted by APIC
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
This posting contains excerpts from a project report from the
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
Project. Additional information on this and other related
projects can be found at
The future of current peace talks for Burundi is uncertain
following the death of the principal mediator, former
Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. Deliberations are
scheduled to resume in the talks in Arusha after Nyerere's
funeral on Saturday October 23.
For additional background on Burundi see, among other sources:
International Crisis Group
INCORE Guide to Internet Sources on Burundi
UN Integrated Regional Information Network
And for more links:
Friends Peace Teams Project
African Great Lakes Initiative
c/o David Zarembka
17734 Larchmont Terrace
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
Phone/fax: (301) 208-1962
Beginning in 1993, fighting broke out between Hutu rebels and
the Tutsi army. As a result, the Tutsi army "ethnically
cleansed" two sections of Bujumbura, killing or forcing the
mostly Hutu population to flee. One section where this
occurred was part of the city called Kamenge. When the Friends
Peace Teams Project's African Great Lakes Initiative visited
Bujumbura in January, 1999, people were just beginning to
rebuild the destroyed sections of the city. Kamenge had been
one of the poorer areas of Bujumbura and the adobe houses and
shops with corrugated iron roofs had been completed leveled as
vandals had carried off furniture, windows, doors, and even
the roofs, leaving the walls to crumble from the downpours of
El Nino rains.
Burundi Yearly Meeting has a large church in this location
called the Kamenge Friends Church. Fortunately, during the
destruction, the Church walls and roof were left
intact--nonetheless the doors, windows, pews, and other parts
of the church were stolen. The residence house and guest house
behind the church was totally destroyed. While in Bujumbura,
the delegation did a three hour trauma healing workshop with
women from the Kamenge Friends Church. The congregation still
meets in the church, but they take their pews and other
materials home after each service.
The first step in the rehabilitation of Kamenge Friends Church
is to rebuild the residence/guest house -- without someone
living on the site, any improvements to the church will be
vandalized again. Also, the guest house is used by Quakers
from the rural areas who have to come to Bujumbura. Members of
the congregation have already made and fired bricks for the
reconstruction of the residence/guest house.
Summary of Kamenge Project
By Adrian Bishop
Several weeks after I arrived in Burundi, I found myself in an
almost constant state of sensory and spiritual overload.
Burundi is intensely beautiful -- deep lush valleys, terraced
mountainsides, running rivers, and huge lakes. Yet, it is one
of the poorest nations in the world. The soil is sadly
depleted and civil war has caused the death of hundreds of
thousands of people in the last three decades. For me, the
most poignant moment of our work together was discovering
unburied human bones next to Kamenge Friends Church.
The goals of the Kamenge Reconciliation and Reconstruction
Project were to engage in conflict resolution training and
workshops and to rebuild the residence/guest house at Kamenge
Friends Church destroyed during the fighting which began in
1993. Our Kamenge Project team, with individuals ranging from
age 20 to 57, brought with us a diversity of life experiences,
beliefs, and racial/national origins (7 Burundians, 1
Tanzanian, 1 Canadian, 1 British, and 4 Americans).
In the Kamenge area of the capital, Bujumbura, we built the
pastor's residence/guest house. This is the first structure to
be rebuilt in this part of Kamenge since the suburb was
largely destroyed and then abandoned. It will accommodate
Friends visiting Bujumbura, secure the church grounds from
further vandalism, and house other community programs until
other facilities are built.
Bette Hoover and Zainabu Dance conducted Conflict Resolution
and Training workshops in Kamenge and upcountry in Gitega
region. Zainabu Dance, Joy Zarembka, and Johnny Johnson
recorded hours of videotaped and audio-taped interviews. AGLI
hopes to edit the interviews into 3 videos in order to spread
the word about the plight of Burundi, to record the Kamenge
Project, and give a description of the Peace Primary School
founded by Quakers in Gitega.
In addition to our time in Kamenge, most of the team spent a
week at a workcamp of about 400 participants at Kibimba, the
site of the first Friends Church, where we took part in
preparing the Kibimba Secondary School to reopen. We conducted
non-violence trainings at Kibimba School and were joined by
local soldiers who took an active part in the peacemaking
exercises and discussions. Johnny Johnson, a doctor, was able
to contribute significantly at the Kibimba Hospital, where he
worked with the medical team. On our last Sunday, the team was
part of a celebration of about 2000 Friends in the
rededication of the restored Kibimba Church!
Other activities included participating in a consultation
sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee on Conscientious
Objection for Friends and Mennonites from Congo, Rwanda,
Burundi, Guatemala and Columbia. Johnny Johnson and Ray
Boucher visited a Bujumbura prison with Samson Gahungu, former
clerk of Burundi Yearly Meeting who had been falsely
imprisoned for 20 months. Becky Calcraft and Joy Zarembka
visited a displaced persons' camp and I visited a
reforestation project "upcountry" involving 4 Friends'
congregations and supported by Canadian Friends Service
Committee. Team members attended church services, a wedding
and a funeral.
Epistle to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, New England Yearly
Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting from Burundi
Yearly Meeting and Kamenge Reconciliation and Reconstruction
30th July 1999
Warm greetings from Burundi. It is a privilege for me to be
able to write to you. You have heard that on the 20th July
1999 we welcomed the African Great Lakes Initiative Friends
Peace Team Project participants. We have with us, John
Johnson, Raymond Boucher, Bette Hoover, Rebecca Calcraft,
Adrian Bishop, Joy Zarembka, and Zainabu Dance. They are
teamed with seven people from the Burundi Yearly Meeting,
particularly the Kamenge Monthly Meeting members on a
reconstruction of a destroyed house. It is indeed an
international, cross-cultural and a life changing experience.
The participants are very active, zealous and hard working. We
are so glad to have them with us and are looking forward to
continued cooperation and relationship.
I also wanted to thank you for helping in putting together
what was necessary in order for this event to take place. Many
of you have contributed financially, morally and materially.
You have done a lasting investment, a contribution to mending
our torn country. As the team works together, there are
elements of a healing process that affects our Burundi team in
particular. We in Burundi have suffered a lot in different
aspects because of the civil war that has been going on over
a period of many years. In responding to this crisis, we have
been doing peace initiatives such as peace education in
different schools, workshops on non-violence, translating
peace materials in the local language, reforestation and the
conscientious objection issues. We would like help in the area
of trauma healing. For those who are not familiar to the
Burundi situation, I wanted to share this brief history.
Burundi, only 27,834 square kilometers, is one of the most
densely populated country of the globe. With about six million
people, its density is of about 284 people per square
kilometer. Its neighboring countries are Rwanda in north,
Democratic Republic of Congo in the west and Tanzania in the
east. It is generally said and accepted that Burundi is
populated with two major ethnic groups : the Hutu 85% and the
Tutsi 14% together with the Twa who are only 1%. However, one
needs to take it with caution since what is seen as ethnic
groups in Burundi has nothing to do with what others perceive
as tribal groups. Hutu and Tutsi as well as Twa speak exactly
the same language. They live one next to the other with the
same culture and habits. They look the same contrary to what
some people have said from time to time that Tutsi are tall
while Hutu are short and so on.
Unfortunately, Burundi is rather known through its cyclic
ethnic wars than its beauty. One can ask himself why Hutu and
Tutsi should fight among themselves. It is not easy to explain
it. Even though they are not ethnic groups as known elsewhere,
their common history, particularly during the Belgium
colonization lead them to perceive themselves as different and
antagonistic. The exclusion in different spheres of the
national life such as in education, justice and army caused
them to perceive themselves as different.
In 1993 the very first Hutu president was assassinated. This
happened only three months after he was democratically elected
after more than 30 years of unshared rule by the minority
Tutsi government. After the assassination of the president,
the Burundi community went through hardships beyond
imagination. Hutu and Tutsi started to fight with the cruelty
that is hard to describe. People were burnt or buried alive,
babies, women, old people, even cattle were cut into pieces.
Hatred was as such that even people of your own group could
kill you if they saw you helping someone of the other ethnic
We are very thankful to all who took us continually in their
prayers and also those who supported our reconciliation
projects through which we were able to touch the lives of many
people. Those who enabled us to encourage people to love not
only the friends but also the enemies.
Burundi Yearly Meeting of Friends
Extracts from Letter Home,Becky Calcraft, 27 July 1999
Our accommodation, in the suburb of Bwiza, is good. We are
staying in a compound built for theology students, financed by
Evangelical Friends International. It has running water
(including showers - cold only) and electricity, but no
telephone. We are being well cared for. The food served to us
is plentiful and delicious, despite a food shortage in the
The reconstruction part of our project is proceeding at a
rapid pace. On our day of arrival we visited the site at
Kamenge, where the foundations for the house were being laid.
One week later the walls have reached door height and the
concrete columns at the corners have been set. Paid workers,
known as "fundis," build alongside the volunteers in our team,
as well as 30 high school students from the church. Most of my
time has been spent carrying and laying bricks. The methods
and materials are simple and effective. Bricks and mortar are
dug from the clay riverbed next to the site and the bricks
were still warm from the firing when we started last week.
Kamenge Church is how it had been described to me - no doors
and windows, just walls and a roof, with benches and chairs
brought along just for the service. The congregation, however,
is strong and active, and the rebuilding of the
residence/guest house is the first of a number of
reconstruction projects on the site. We attended worship at
the church on Sunday, where we were welcomed as special
guests. The service lasted for almost 4 hours, with much
singing, frequent Bible readings and a long, loud sermon!
There is evidence of extreme poverty everywhere, exacerbated
by the destruction of the last 6 years. In both Bwiza and
Kamenge, many buildings are derelict, with only crude mud
bricks which have been left by looters who followed after
"ethnic cleansing" incidents. There are signs of people
returning to Kamenge, with rebuilding and makeshift
constructions, plus a small market. Generally the city of
Bujumbura is safe, but gunfire is exchanged in some suburbs at
night. There is a curfew from midnight until dawn - in fact
our visit to the beach off Lake Tanganyika this evening was
the first time we have been out after dusk. We frequently see
soldiers on the streets. The atmosphere is calm but watchful.
Some roads around Bujumbura (outside of the city) are
susceptible to ambushes, but people continue to travel and
continue their daily lives. We are exercising caution and
taking local advice. We have met some courageous people who
are working for peace in Burundi.
Diary Entry, Joy Zarembka August 3, 1999
I spent my day digging ditches and shoveling dirt out of the
Kamenge building. It feels so good to do physical labor. I
know that I will sleep well tonight. As I was digging around
the church close to the road today, I began pulling up old,
tattered articles: the heel of a black shoe here, an old
bottle of nail polish there. I'm not sure if I thought it
first or saw it first -- Human bones. It makes so much sense.
I am standing on a killing field. I shouldn't be surprised.
Yet I am. The high school boys I am digging with determine
that the bone I'm holding is a thigh bone. They start cracking
jokes about how the bones belonged to their grandfather and
other comments. I'm unable to tell how old the bones are. They
throw the bones aside. I keep digging.
Reconciliation Work By Bette Hoover
Zainabu Dance and I travelled to Gitega, the second largest
city in Burundi and a center for Quakers, to facilitate
workshops for a week. Due to the continued violent clashes
between rebels and the military, we were transported to the
outlying city by a World Food Programme plane. I was thrilled
to meet up with deeply committed leaders who were experienced
in the principles of conflict transformation and
reconciliation. The model they teach from is called "Knocking
Horns," from their non-violence handbook.
The "Knocking Horns" trainers in Gitega are part of an
organization called Mi-PAREC (Ministry of Peace and
Reconciliation under the Cross). As I listened to the
overwhelming challenges Mi-PAREC staff and volunteers are up
against, I questioned what we could possibly offer these
seasoned peace workers. What could we teach them to help
facilitate their work?
Exercises in HIPP (Help Increase the Peace Program) and AVP
(Alternatives to Violence Project) were a place to start. They
loved the "games" and rewarded us with smiles and increased
dialogue among themselves. We then taught them active
listening from the Listening Project model. Learning to listen
without a need to solve the other's problem, to listen as a
gift you give another was a relief to the participants. The
concept of listening as a gift without needing to have all the
answers was a new challenge for the peacemakers.
The five stages of grieving (from Kubler-Ross) became the next
teaching tool and resulted in rave reviews. People began to
understand that it is normal in times of loss and crisis to
move from denial to anger to acceptance and depression with
fleeting periods of peace. "This explains life in Burundi,"
one person told us, "everyone here has suffered pain and
loss." No one is exempt from the hurt. We allowed time for
each person to identify their place on the levels of grief and
to write and draw what they were feeling. Healing and
reconciliation are essential for building peace. We then
role-played active listening to persons in denial, anger,
depression, etc. Many spoke later of valuable insights they
learned from the experience.
Working with Mi-PAREC trainers, Zainabu and I then conducted
a two day seminar with 40 youth in a retreat setting at Mweya.
There were representatives from five churches and all "ethnic
groups" at this unusual event. Soldiers stationed nearby ,
curious and somewhat skeptical about such diverse groups
working together, sat and chatted with the enthusiastic young
people during the evening. They. Our co-trainers were very
pleased about this witness to the military on peace building.
Some youth described the experience as a "life-changing" one.
I felt blessed to be a part of this incredible retreat.
Dialogue, new learnings, music, and renewed commitment to work
together to transform conflict and work for reconciliation
were among the happenings of the two days.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
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