This is the story I will tell my children, about Burundi. Above all the kaleidoscope that my country passed through, the crisis, the woman is the heart of the nation. As long as she lives, there is a hope for the country to live in peace. I will tell them about the extraordinary women, who stood up, for the lives of others, risking their own, because they wanted their communities to live in peace.
It all started in 1993, a year for Burundians to remember as October 21st the first democratically elected Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated after barely few months in office. The move sparked a civil war that divided the once united ethnic groups of Hutu and the Tutsi resulting into mass killings and rape. These two ethnic groups pre to the conflict considered themselves incuti (relatives) but sadly turned their back to each other.
As a consequence, Burundi plunged into civil war in 1993 with the ethnic violence leading to thousands of civilians losing their lives. However women played a critical yet overlooked role in the peace building and reconciliation process in their respective communities. Shily, without any support, one woman,from Bujumbura, another woman from Karusi, lifted their heads, leading to their neighbor who is now the enemmy.
Resilient, powerful, determined, are the words to describe these courageous women found in the book « Elles, Un Hommage aux oubliées » (ijr.org.za/home/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/IJR-Recueil-de-temoinages-WEB.pdf) by Christine Ntahe. She is popularly known for feeding and hosting radio shows for street kids in Burundi.
Casualties and survivors of the brutal ethnic violence lived in fear as schools and markets remained closed. No hutu dared to come in the tutsi camp, and vice versa. But fortunately these superwomen from different ethnic groups of hutu and tutsi stood up for peace and reconciliation in the deeply ethnic divided communities.
They left their comfort zones to cross barriers of their « enemies » in search for peace. In general, we all know that women are the most vulnerable group in any conflict. They are abused, raped, but still they have to protect and feed their children. Despite these horrors, they are resilient and need to write the story of their communities with a different ink. As they said themselves “The ethnicity of a woman is love”.
That’s where Georgette Mahwera, a hutu from Kinama wants to see her old tutsi friends who fled to Cibitoke. She funded an association called Abaniki(Abakenyezi b’Amahoro n’Iterambere) with her friends and they use soccer as a means of reconciliation in her community. Same case for Madeleine Gacoreke, the mother of Christine Ntahe, a tutsi from Mukike who not only protected her neighbors in 1993 but also did so in 1972 during the ethnic violence. Hundreds of people fled to her home because they knew what she did in 1972. Plus, she defended her neighbour. Mvyarirabandi would have been killed because he was a hutu. She told the authorities that he has done no wrong. They were not convinced at first to release him, but because she insisted so much he was finally set free.
Burundi’s must read book
“Their stories are worth to be shared”, said Maman Dimanche, when she thought of writing their stories. Former journalist at a state owned media RTNB, she met these women when she was working for a non profit organisation Search for Common Ground. She used to hosted a radio show called Mukenyezi Nturambirwe, (woman don’t give up), and had to meet all these brave women during her show. She also put her life in line to interview them. She believed that their testimonies should get to all Burundians.
Once I read this book, I could harldy believe that these women exist, and what they have done. This is the kind of story that every burundian should be proud of, look for as an example. What if we took it as a heritage to share with the coming generations, when narrating the sad past of Burundi?