the Peace in
Jeremy Woodham of the Church Mission Society (CMS)
Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi. Reproduced with permission
In a rare interview the Archbishop of
tiny country buried in the heart of
But now, with the final rebel group having reached an
agreement with the government, the long road to lasting peace looks more
secure than at any time since the Anglican Church of Burundi got its
first Archbishop in 1992.
Bernard Ntahoturi is the third person in the job and is faced
with leading the country's 625,000 Anglicans (around eight per cent of
that intensely packed population) in what he sees as the church's main
mission - reconciliation.
"Many people have been wounded, each family has been
affected by the crisis that we have passed through. The church will have
to use the message of the Gospel to restore the trust of the
said that, reconciliation is not easy; it is a long process. Because
here you are dealing with the feelings. So we should take time and not
hurry in reconciling our people."
Understanding the nature of the conflict is one key element
in reconciliation. Archbishop Bernard says the fighting was too easily
written off in ethnic terms.
the other was what drove people to kill, he says, and yet a deeper root
of the conflict was poverty. Those in government used their power only
to help their own.
powerful wanted to keep that power - almost all the resources of the
country in the hands of a few.
The root cause was the
exclusion of the other, the system that did not allow people to
participate in the decision making in the matters
concerning their lives. So people hid behind ethnic group, hid behind
their regional belonging. For me the war was an expression of what was
going on within our society, of excluding the other, and that exclusion
had the colour of ethnicity."
The obvious question is, what now? How does the fear
Archbishop Bernard enjoys a good relationship with
the openly Christian president Pierre Nkurunziza. Nkurunziza meets
regularly with a group of senior church leaders to consult them and ask
for their prayers.
"He is not serving the nation at an easy
The Anglican Church of Burundi is
playing its part in reconciliation in three main ways. The first is
mediation over the land issue that is a major hurdle for the
repatriation of one of the longest-excluded refugee populations in the
world. Many have been in camps in
"When these refugees come back they will need to
go back to their land, but that land is occupied by other people. So we
are mediators, saying, how do we share the little that we have with
those who are on the inside - and those who are on the outside."
In education, as well as joining a partnership of government and other
churches to develop education more generally, the Anglican Church is
developing school materials on peace building.
"Thirdly we are helping in
shelter," explains the archbishop. "And when we build houses
in a given village we ask that people of different ethnic groups work
together to build. If we are building the house of a Hutu we will ask
Tutsis and Hutus to come and build today the house of this Hutu.
Tomorrow it will be the house of a Tutsi. If they share in building
their own communities, in building their houses, in building the schools
for their children this will give them a time to share their
The archbishop, who spent much of the war involved in
"commissions and committees trying to bring people to talk about
reconciliation" believes that the church is well placed to do that
"We have found that the church in a community is
like a market. The church and the market were the only two places where
the two communities who were fighting continued to meet. So we feel the
church at the grass roots will be an instrument of peace building."
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