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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Burundi: Kamenge Reconciliation Project

Burundi: Kamenge Reconciliation Project
Date distributed (ymd): 991020
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
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:

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

Dear Friends,

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 group.

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.

David Niyonzima
General Secretary
Burundi Yearly Meeting of Friends

Personal Writings

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 country generally.

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 Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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