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WINTER, 1999: Volume 4 Issue 1

Quaker Peacemaking in a War Zone by David Zarembka


Delegation to the African Great Lakes Region, January 1999. 1st row: Carl Stauffer, Jill Sternbery. 2nd row: David Zarembka, Bill MecMechen, Ute Caspors, Derrick Kayongo. 
    Photo: David Zarembka.

Delegation to the African Great Lakes Region, January 1999. 1st row: Carl Stauffer, Jill Sternbery. 2nd row: David Zarembka, Bill MecMechen, Ute Caspors, Derrick Kayongo. Photo: David Zarembka.


What are the possibilities for peacemaking in a country torn by civil war? A civil war has raged in Burundi since 1993, killing over 200,000 people (or 3% of the population of 6,000,000)—presently the fourteen sides of this conflict are attempting to negotiate a resolution in Arusha, Tanzania.

Amidst this conflict are approximately 10,000 adult Quakers in Burundi Yearly Meeting, headed by David Niyonzima. Kibimba Mission, founded in central Burundi in 1934 by the first American missionaries from Friends Evangelical Alliance, became a thriving community on the top of a hill with a spectacular view. This included a large church, an 800-student secondary school, a primary school, a dispensary, and many homes for the staff of these institutions. In 1985, however, the Burundi government refused to renew the work permits of the American missionaries, who subsequently moved to Rwanda, where they now live. The government took over the schools.

In 1994, a violent mob massacred about 125 people, including some students from Kibimba Secondary School, at the gasoline station on the road below the school and mission. The schools and dispensary closed and soon the buildings of the secondary school and Quaker church filled with up to 3,000 people displaced by fighting. When I visited the site, as part of the Friends Peace Team Project’s delegation to the African Great Lakes region, on January 11, 1999, the displaced people were gone, leaving the church and school blackened with smoke from fires and in a state of great disrepair. Soldiers stationed on the hill are still patrolling the area, as is occurring throughout Burundi. The dispensary is refurbished and operating (although they have no doctor and would like one for a three-month or longer tour). What are these Friends doing about the devastation in the area and to try to ensure that it will not happen again?

Each Saturday the Quakers organize a soccer game between the soldiers and the villagers.

The Quakers started a Peace Committee consisting of all three groups—Tutsi, Twa, and Hutu—which meets whenever there are any conflicts and disagreements that threaten the peace.

The Peace Committee meets in the Amahoro Restaurant—amahoro means peace in Kirundi—established as a neutral place where everyone, including the soldiers, can come for a soda or a bite to eat.

Samson Gahungu, the former Clerk of Burundi Yearly Meeting, who was accused (as a scapegoat) of instigating the massacre in 1994 and who spent twenty and a half months in jail before being declared innocent, is now stationed in Kibimba as the Director of the Public Relations Committee of Burundi Yearly Meeting. He told us that the jail term gave him a lot of time to think and he is now distributing throughout Burundi a pamphlet he authored entitled Should We Have Reconciliation or Revenge?

We happened upon a literacy class of twenty-two women and three teachers, from young to quite old. The teacher told us that the students—Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa—were initially suspicious of each other, but since their work includes reconciliation, the women are learning to trust each other. They also sing songs, pray, and discuss women’s issues. The integration of the peacemaking message with the literacy work (a common approach in the peace work we saw in Burundi) is an indication of the maturity of the peace work in the midst of war.

We found a group of about ten Quaker women weeding the grass in the courtyard of the damaged Kibimba Secondary School. The government gave permission to reopen the school as a Quaker institution less than a month before, on December 18, 1998. This is the first small step in rehabilitating the secondary school for its hoped-for opening in September. This is only a sample of peace work from one Quaker location in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Although but a small body in the total Burundi population, the Burundi Quakers are leaders and teachers of reconciliation, peacemaking, and trauma healing. Is this surprising?


Quaker women weeding at Kibimba School

Quaker women weeding at Kibimba School. Photo: David Zarembka.


David Zarembka is clerk of Seneca Valley Preparatory Meeting. He worked in Tanzania and Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960's and organized and led the AGLI delegation there in January, 1999. He is a Baltimore Yearly Meeting representative to the FPTP Coordinating Committee and its Treasurer. Copies of the ‘January 1999 African Great Lakes Initiative Donor Report’ and the complete ‘Delegation Report’ are available from African Great Lakes Initiative, FPTP, c/o David Zarembka, 17734 Larchmont Terrace, Gaithersburg, MD 20877.

For related earlier articles see:
Report on African Great Lakes Initiative, PTNv3i2
Peacemaking in the African Great Lakes Region, PTNv3i3

In this issue:
Knocking Horns: Peace and Conflict in Burundi

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