10 March 2016

East Africa: Calls for Peace in Burundi Grow Louder

During a solidarity visit to Burundi 1 - 4 March, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) sent a "Peace Message" urging all parties in Burundi to promote national unity, healing and reconciliation.

Burundi has faced escalating violence recently amid a polarization between the Burundi government and the opposition following the re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza last year. International partners are urging a credible dialogue from the country, an end to the armed opposition's provocative attacks, a halt to impunity and ongoing killings, and respect for the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, signed in 2000 with subsequent cease-fire agreements, that brought an end to the country's 12-year civil war.

"We did the solidarity visit to the Republic of Burundi to express our commitment to work with all religious leaders and all peace-seeking people of Burundi and to support their much-needed efforts on the ground to secure a lasting peace and stability in Burundi", Dr Agnes Abuom, WCC Central Committee moderator and a member of the Anglican Church of Kenya, said.

WCC general secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, summarised the ecumenical visit to Burundi this way: "After listening, discerning, talking to church leaders, women, youth, representatives of the opposition, Intergovernmental Conference on Great Lakes , representatives from government, President Nkurunziza and Vice President Sindimwo, from this we hear the willingness to proceed with a national dialogue.

"We also hear the request to continue to accompany this dialogue from the international ecumenical family. The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is quite concrete, and the need for and the readiness to a real national dialogue expressed."

Tveit added: "We continue to be gravely concerned about the egregious human rights violations in Burundi. We strengthen our appeal to the government and political leadership to step back from the path of violence onto the path of peace, back from bitter divisiveness onto the path of unity, back from disregard for human life onto the path of reconciliation."

Churches must bring hope to a wounded country

Since attacks on military installations in Bujumbura on 11 December 2015, the regime is even more severely repressing the few dissenting voices that have not fled the country, and the country's Imbonerakure militia is taking an increasingly hard line in the fractured security forces. There is a risk of turning to an ethnic rhetoric that will make the political crisis much more dangerous.

At this point, many from the opposition are afraid to return to the country as they are afraid that the current regime militarizes the crisis, inciting greater violence against populations it has publicly pledged to protect.

Abuom joined the international community in calling for an immediate end to the killings, attacks and enforced disappearances. "An inclusive and genuine dialogue in Burundi must occur through regionally-led mediation in order find a nationally-owned solution that works together for peace," she said.

Burundi's most recent violence is occurring in the context of a tragic recent history in which the raw wounds of civil war and genocide in the region are all too fresh, added Tveit. "These developments could have dangerous familiarity. But we believe hope will come from the churches and church leaders of Burundi, and we pray for their strength as they work together, as they remain faithful witnesses and guides on the pilgrimage of justice and peace in a wounded country."

Members of the delegation: the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary; Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator, WCC Central Committee; Bishop Jan Janssen, Lutheran Church in Germany Archbishop Valentine Mokiwa, AACC president; the Revd Frank Chikane, AACC representative; Elizabeth Kisiigha, executive director of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa; Dr Nigussu Legesse, WCC staff; Afiwa Alahare, AACC staff.

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