Burundi’s president was inaugurated on August 26 after winning more than 90 percent of the vote in the June presidential elections. The event also marks the five year anniversary of the end of Burundi’s civil war.
By Zack Baddorf
Mirroring the ethnic division of its neighbour Rwanda, Tutsis and Hutus clashed in a conflict that lasted 13 years, leaving an estimated 300,000 dead. The swearing in of the president in August 2005 was the final step in a peace process.
In a unique effort to reconcile the two ethnic groups, the United Nations and Burundi’s government established the Mutambara Peace Village. A place where some 1,600 Hutus and Tutsis live as neighbours in 300 identical two-room homes constructed of concrete with tin roofs.
Nyandwi Philemon was given a home in the Peace Village in 2007. At just three years old, he and his parents fled to Tanzania when the Tutsi-dominated government launched a campaign of violence in 1972 against the Hutu majority. In what an international commission dubbed genocide, about 200,000 were killed and hundreds of thousands more fled the country.
Philemon, who returned to his homeland five years ago, said his parents’ generation was seriously divided.
“When we were in the refugee camps, people used to say that we cannot live with people from other ethnic groups,” he recounted. “But when we are here in the Peace Village, we see that we can live with them without any problems.”
Philemon is Hutu and married to a Tutsi. He said he doesn’t care about ethnicity, adding that it’s used by politicians “to get power.” As the camp’s government representative, he said he’s never received any complaints related to ethnicity.
Lack of food
According to Peace Village resident Denise Ndabige, ethnicity is not the problem anymore. The biggest challenge is a lack of food.
“This morning, I haven’t eaten. Even my children didn’t eat,” she said inside her home in the Peace Village. “So we have a problem of finding food because we don’t have a way to cultivate crops. We just spend all the day here. We don’t have land. We can’t even grow small things like vegetables here. We just stay here, just perhaps waiting for death.”
Each family in the Peace Village is given a plot of land, but it’s not big enough to cultivate crops. Charities are helping but the Peace Village project wasn’t designed to support the residents. It was intended to just give them a place to live.
The Hutus and Tutsis living together as neighbours have come to realise that they’re not so different and that they’re facing similar problems each day in Burundi, like paying for medical care and figuring out where the next meal will come from.
Free but challenged
Despite the challenges of life in the Peace Village, resident David Thomas Ciza said he’s thankful to have a home here. He also lived as a refugee in Tanzania.
“When we were in Tanzania, we were facing a terrible situation. We were threatened by different security services, like the army and police,” he explained. “But here in Burundi, it’s safe now and no one comes to ask for your identity card. We are free. I am happy to have my feet on my country’s soil because Burundi is my country.”
However, while there is peace, the Hutus and Tutsis from the Mutambara Peace Village say they still need food and other resources to lead a meaningful life. This is a problem also faced by millions in Burundi, one the world’s poorest countries. But the government has provided little help, regardless of ethnicity.