Religious Institutions: Creating a Culture of Nonviolence in Burundi
Africa Program Director Howard Wolpe opened the program by introducing the panelists and announcing that their visit to the United States, along with 19 of their Burundian colleagues, is part of a partnership between the US and the Burundian Conferences of Catholic Bishops. The mission's goal is to create a plan of action that would contribute to the building of a culture of peace in Burundi through religious institutions. Out of these meetings, the Burundi Catholic Peace Building Initiative was created.
Bishop Ntagwarara opened the panel by emphasizing the important role the Catholic Church can play in peace-building in Burundi, given that 65% of the population is Catholic. However, it was necessary that the Church strengthen its connection to the leaders of Burundi and work with them to build peace. The partnership between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Burundian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ntagwarara concluded, has allowed them to explore the necessary avenues of ministry to confront conflict in Burundi.
Pascasie Kana discussed the role of women in Burundi peace-building. She identified seven "assets" of Burundian women that can help in fostering a culture of peace in Burundi:
1. Women are first wives and mothers. They have great influence on their husbands and children that allows them to mediate community conflicts.
2. They are educators: the majority of primary school teachers are women.
3. Women have a massive presence in grassroots organizations, which gives them community legitimacy and mobilization capacity.
4. Women are good managers. They can quickly develop trust within the community.
5. Women are the pillars of the economy, particularly in rural Burundi where women are primary agriculturalists.
6. Burundian women are pillars of the home and are welcoming and discrete, allowing them to be social mediators.
7. Women now participate in the management of the country.
However, Kana concluded, poverty and war have slowed the participation of women in peace building.
Eugène Nindorera explained the role of the Wilson Center's Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP) in building peace in Burundi. The program looks to train leaders from a cross section of Burundian society to work together to develop a peaceful Burundi. Almost 100 leaders are participating in the BLTP, and leadership training has been extended to the security sector. BLTP participants are acquiring the tools and skills required for collaborative decision-making, and are developing relationships that will enable them contribute to efforts the myriad of challenges the country faces: democratization, economic reconstruction, resolving difficult issues of justice. The BLTP initiative is complementary to the other projects discussed by the panelists, Nindorera concluded, in that all seek to help the Burundian people, the victims in this conflict, find a means of reconciling their differences and creating the conditions for a peaceful future.
Ntagwarara was asked if he could be more specific about the action plan the mission has created. However, the bishop was reluctant to give specifics pending the release of a report. But, Ntagwarara said, the Church likely be involved in efforts to encourage the country's economic revitalization, planned to use the radio to disseminate the Church's message of peace, and hoped to "train trainers" who could spread more widely the important tools of non-violent conflict management.
When the panel was asked whether Burundians needed to create their own truth, justice and reconciliation commissions or if, alternatively, the international community should intervene by creating an international tribunal, Ntagwarara noted the importance of stable institutions in creating the conditions for social justice, and questioned the ability of the current justice system to resolve all of the issues that hinder national reconciliation. He observed that Burundi, unfortunately, lacked a charismatic leader, such as Nelson Mandela or Bishop Desmond Tutu, to build public confidence in a truth and reconciliation commission. Nindorera noted the Arusha Accord actually called for the creation of two commissions: an international commission of inquiry to investigate historical crimes and a national truth and reconciliation commission. Nindorera added that it would be very interesting to see how these commissions will work together. Due to mistrust among Burundians, justice is so controversial in Burundi that it is often part of the problem. In Nindorera's view, given the level of domestic polarization and mistrust, it might be advisable to construct a mixed truth and reconciliation commission, comprised of both Burundians and non-Burundians.
Nicole Rumeau, Program Associate