Genocide in Burundi: The Long Road Back

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Genocide in Burundi: The Long Road Back

Fr. William Headley, CSSp

Dean, Joan B. Kroc School of Peacebuilding

University of San Diego

The Future of Peacebuilding:

Contributions from Catholic Theology, Ethics. Praxis

Casa La Salle, Rome

June 30, 2011
I will use post-genocide Burundi to illustrate some practical lessons learned about strategic approaches to Catholic peacebuilding. To begin, I will offer brief introductions to Burundi’s violent history and Catholic Relief Service. Then, I hope to show how the church integrated its various strengths in that settings, and how, in turn, the church was challenged to grow in its capacities by its very engagement in peacebuilding.
Violence and Genocide in Burundi
An audience of your sophistication needs only the briefest reminder of Burundi’s violent past. It is rooted in a history of sporadic conflict and massacres between the country’s two main ethnic groups, Tutsis and Hutus, which began before the country’s independence in 1962.
The trigger for the most recent violence was the assassination of the first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, in October 1993. During that outbreak of violence an estimated 300,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed. Over 500,000 people were internally displaced. An additional 600,000 persons sought refuge in neighboring countries. Two additional factors contributed to the violence: 1) an extremely high population density combined with very limited access to land; 2) and political manipulation of ethnic identities.
Catholic Relief Services: A Vantage Point
My perspective in this brief analysis is that of a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) peacebuilder and a member of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN). My engagement in post-genocide Burundi spans the last 10 years. Let me rush to note that the church’s peacebuilding effort continues today and is ever deeper and wider in scope.
CRS and its peacebuilding initiatives must be understood in their wider institutional context. Founded in 1943 to assist war-ravaged Europe, CRS is today one of the three largest aid agencies in the United States. It has operations in one hundred countries and territories on five continents and a 2009 operational budget of $806 million U.S. dollars. As is the case with many Caritas partners, CRS’ peacebuilding is only one aspect of its humanitarian outreach. For peacebuilding alone, CRS had at least 111 projects in over fifty countries in 2009.
Strengths of the Church in Peacebuilding
Catholic Social Teaching: The first strength that I want to discuss is Catholic social teaching (CST). It inspired Catholic peacebuilding efforts in Burundi. It also provided local and international participants with a common language and set of values to engage one another about moral, spiritual and social justice issues they encountered in their effort to build peace. Human dignity, the common good, and the principles that flow from these twin pillars of Catholic social teaching such as the option for the poor, subsidiarity, and solidarity provided an ethical framework for thinking about peace and doing it together.
But, the actual experiences of peacebuilding carried these same church agents into new ethical areas, challenging their Catholic social thought to stretch and them to grapple with a new range of concerns. The practice of making peace required thinking strategically about how to engage people and problems and about how to enhance local peace processes in ways that support subsidiarity and integral development. It focuses on the processes used for building right relationships, such as culturally appropriate mediation and facilitation. This is why it has been important to have skilled theologians willing to journey with us and to help with new articulations.
Local Ubiquitous Presence: John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite peacebuilder, has raised-up both an obvious and critically important strength of the Catholic Church: its social location within the Burundian society. Members of the Church are at all and varying levels of society. Lederach calls this phenomenon the “ubiquitous presence” of the Church. I don’t want to brush over the difficult tasks of translating this presence into a unifying voice pursuing a just peace. Catholics are often found on opposing sides of conflicts. But, this pervasive presence offers a natural networking advantage for peacebuilders of being anywhere and everywhere. -- particularly in a predominantly Catholic country like Burundi.
Since Burundi became independent, the Catholic Church has employed this strength by playing an active role in identifying and addressing sources of conflict through direct dialogue with leaders of rebel groups, heads of political parties and the international community. In 1991 the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Burundi (CECAB) created the Center for Research, Education and Development. The center has conducted social analysis, promoted peace and reconciliation, and conducted training sessions in active nonviolence. In 2002, CECAB established the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace to promote human rights and peacebuilding in the country’s seven dioceses and 132 parishes. The Church also disseminated the main elements of the Arusha peace accord and sponsored a variety of initiatives designed to promote dialogue and reconciliation.
Nurturing Peacebuilding Partnerships is a third strength. From a church perspective, there are two broad categories of partners: 1) partners of preference: agencies and organizations that are part of the Catholic Church; 2) and partners: other faith-based and secular organizations with whom the Church works. I’ll speak about each.
a. Partners of Preference: Advantage: Without wanting to be exclusionary, working with Catholic partners was found to present significant advantages, given the ubiquitous presence of the church in the country. In Burundi, CRS has over the years developed working agreements with a wide variety of these church actors, from the bishops’ conference and the Center for Research, Education and Development to youth organizations and trauma-healing centers. In working with CRS, the church in Burundi had, in effect, partnered with the American Church for many years. For, CRS is a vehicle of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and American Catholic people in matters of external humanitarian outreach. Peacebuilding simply built on these relationships.
But, this partner of preference strength has been frequently employed on numerous occasions in the Burundian peacebuilding effort. For example, in 2002, confronted with the reality of refugees and displaced people, the bishops’ conferences of Burundi and Tanzania developed the Joint Committee on Refugees, a cross-border initiative to serve these needs. During 2005 Cardinal Turkson’s predecessor as President of the Pontifical Council, Cardinal Martio, visited Burundian refugee camps in TZ and spoke of the “need for a regional initiative to promote peace and reconciliation.” A further encouragement came from 2009’s Africa Synod of Bishops with its theme, Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. In 2006, CPN held its International Peacebuilding Conference in Bujumbura so that it might engage the local church in joint reflection on peacebuilding efforts in Burundi.
The most dramatic expression of preferential partnering on peacebuilding was initiated in Burundi’s capitol in October 2010. Representatives of 5 episcopal conferences and two regional bishops’ conferences from the Great Lakes Region, several international Catholic aid agencies and the U.S. bishops’ conference met to build on existing peacebuilding initiatives. The hoped-for outcome is to reach consensus on a strategic plan for increased regional collaboration to promote peace and reconciliation. Approval of this plan is pending episcopal action. One indicator of this effort’s impact is that the chief liaison in the organization of this plan, Dominican Father Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, has just been named head of the Burundi Human Rights Commission.
b. Partners: Balancing the Spiritual and Practical in Peacebuilding: Another major learning from the Burundi peacebuilding effort is the need to balance the spiritual dimensions of peace with the professional skills and practice of peace. This was particularly evident in an early phase of a Burundian intervention (2004) that took place in the United States. The three week workshop for training and planning purposes for a select, representative group of Burundians began with a spiritual retreat. It was a time of assisted deep reflection that brought participants to focus on core aspects of their faith.
Then, using the services of skilled conflict-transformation scholars and practitioners from the United States, the commission had days to reflect on reconciliation, trauma and healing of memories. Though participants welcomed the help of experts, they saw the external assistance as relevant to the extent that it built upon their own pastoral abilities.
Funding for this three-week session was paid, in part, by the U.S. government, which highly values the separation of church and state. The event brought “partners of preference” into dialogue with a secular “partner” in the form of a U.S. government agency. Who would fund what portion of the workshop became a matter of some concern. Being even-handed is difficult when partners are uneven or imbalanced in terms of material resources and technical know how. This is acutely the case when spiritual resources must be integrated with material ones. With care, they were blended in subtle and rich ways in order to reinforce one another and to give a distinctive Catholic flavor to the peacebuilding.
Peacebuilding’s Challenges to the Church
Greater Integration of Catholic Social Thought: Though we have every right to celebrate the importance of Catholic social thought to our peacebuilding efforts, there is a need for greater awareness and integration of Catholic social teaching, its language and ideas among our peacebuilders and the church at-large. If I may speak for a moment like a member of a service- based International Non-governmental Organization, this integration presents a unique challenge to us. Ethical reflection, theology and spirituality are not project activities, skills or management tools. A Caritas Internationalis partner is not likely, for example, to measure the impact of the depth of spirituality of participants on long-term, social change processes. The Burundi case highlighted these challenges.
A Certain Humility: A certain inter-faith and secular humility are demanded of Catholic peacebuilders. While we make our unique contribution to this emerging field and draw our inspiration from our grounding in Catholic social thought, practical resources we use for conflict analysis, mediation, trauma healing, reconciliation, etc. were developed outside of Catholic context, including secular faith-based resources. CRS, Caritas and other Catholic Church partners employ these methodologies to catalyze the development of Catholic resources and efforts to build peace.

Engaging the World as It Is: As we learned in the case of Burundi, working with a people injured by conflict and violence is to confront the unvarnished sanctity and depravity of our common humanity. For the church to do this is to engage the modern world wherever and however it finds it, even, and perhaps especially, when it is enveloped by poverty and violent conflict. It is that very church which Gaudium et Spes launched on a new path of involvement in social and political affairs. This new understanding emerged from Vatican II’s reading of the signs of the times and its formulation of a direction for the church’s response in light of the gospel.
The American Jesuit theologian, David Hollenbach, noted that the mode of the church’s engagement in social and political life has entered a new phase and that its “contours are still in the process of taking shape.” In some small way, lessons learned from the long road back in Burundi’s peacebuilding may assist the church in this very self-understanding.
Bill Headley, CSSp

Dean, Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

University of San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA

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