Libmonster ID: UK-1234
Author(s) of the publication: DAVID RAWSON




Retired Ambassador of the United States of America

In July 1966, I was having lunch in my apartment in Bujumbura when it was announced in the afternoon news that the King (mwami-na yaz. Kirundi) Mwambutsa was overthrown and power in Burundi passed to his son, Crown Prince Charles Ndiziya. At the same time, it was said that the previous constitution is being repealed and a new order is being established in the country. In fact, this meant the introduction of autocratic and then military rule, which very soon became predatory and repressive. Ethnic cleansing began in the country, and then a real genocide, which eventually led to a civil war.1

At that time, I was in Burundi on a research trip. The subject of my research was the relationship and interrelationship between traditional religion and political practice in Rwanda and Burundi. When Prince Charles came to power, the country imposed strict controls on all contacts with foreigners, severely limiting my ability to understand how its residents see the world around them, how this vision manifests itself in public life in Burundi, and how it affects their morals and national character. However, very soon purely theoretical research in the field of African politics gave way to real practice, since I joined the diplomatic service.

43 years later, I am asking myself the same question again: are there any special features in Burundians ' perceptions of the world that are unique to them, which have a decisive influence on the actions of their leaders and the behavior of ordinary citizens?2 To understand this, you first need to answer three other related questions. Is their political behavior simply a reflection of the tensions that prevail in many third world countries, or does it reflect their unique identity? Do the political realities of Burundi allow us to draw any generalizing conclusions, or do the chaos and anarchy caused by the war make it impossible to get any general idea of what exactly is the political life of Burundi and what moral norms govern it? And finally, third , can the answers to the first two questions help the United States decide what its policy should be in relation to this country?


Assuming that we can identify certain patterns in the political life of Burundi, consider the geographical location of the country. When we say "country of Burundi", we mean the space where Burundians live.3 Historically , it is a hill country whose geographical axis is the line between the towns of Muramvya and Gitega. On one side is the Imbo Plateau, on the other - the city of Usumbura (the former name of the capital Bujumbura). Tensions between residents of the mountain plateau and the capital have always been an integral part of Burundi's political life. For a while, only the capital itself and its surroundings remained a conflict area. However, later, with the outbreak of the civil war, violence spread to mountainous areas. The most violent clashes that took place in 1972 and 1988 were a kind of turning point that radically changed the country's political culture.

Year after year, the multinational capital gradually turned into a geopolitical center of attraction. Better economic opportunities, political appeal, personal connections, and a cosmopolitan lifestyle (such as Senegalese goldsmiths, Congolese diamond smugglers, Rwandan refugees, and international bureaucrats) all created a special atmosphere that the countryside could not compete with. However, as soon as the Burundianist said to Iwaku, "This is our place," it became clear that the country was in a different state.

* D. Rawson's presentation at the Embassy seminar on Burundi organized by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the U.S. National Intelligence Council. Published with minor abbreviations.

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Burundi, after all, is primarily that part of its territory that is located in the hills.4 Is it possible to implement the country's development policy guided by the dictates of the heart? Can rural development programs be effective and contribute to a real improvement in the living standards of the village? Or perhaps investors and the government should focus their efforts mainly on meeting the growing needs of the capital? After years of civil war that ravaged many rural areas, the country's leadership finally began to invest in primary education and the construction of rural hospitals. These programs are designed to help bridge the gap between the city and the countryside. President Nkurunziza spends a lot of time traveling around the provinces. Many residents of the capital believe that he does it in vain and nothing good will come of it. Of course, this shows that Burundi's split into the capital and the countryside is still not resolved.


Burundians are a deeply religious people. However, it remains unclear exactly which beliefs play a crucial role in leaders ' political decisions and in the behavior of citizens: faith in the Divine Creator - Iman (in Russian). kirundi) or the worship of ancestral spirits 5. By the way, the Catholic Archbishop of Bujumbura, at the height of the 1972 genocide, declared: "You can't make scrambled eggs without breaking them." And in 1993, Protestant high school students from a Christian high school in Kibimba and Hutu ethnicity, under the impression of the assassination of President Ndadaye (Hutu - ed.), locked their Tutsi classmates in a gas station and set it on fire. Such an attitude to human life and such actions are difficult to combine with sincere faith.

But there are other examples of Catholic and Protestant believers working together during the civil war against ethnic violence, courageously calling for forgiveness and reconciliation. Moreover, it is faith in God, an understanding of the need for mutual repentance, and love for one's neighbor that are the characteristic moral features of the people of Burundi, and serve as the moral basis that allows non-governmental Christian organizations to continue their work, helping to heal the wounds caused by the war and achieve universal reconciliation.6 In rural areas, schools, hospitals and clinics, orphanages and social assistance centers established by them and operating under their leadership have achieved the greatest success in this area. The current administration has become more active in supporting public activities carried out within the framework of old traditions.

It could not have been otherwise, because since religion is the main driving force of Burundian society, any attempt to influence the situation in the country without taking this circumstance into account is doomed to failure.


Burundian society is a traditional type of society. If you ask a Burundians who they are, they will answer your question with their ancestry, place of residence, social status, or profession. During the pre-colonial and colonial periods, when Christian missions were established in the country, Burundians also identified with the church in which they prayed or the church school in which they studied: Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist. In rural areas, belonging to one of these churches indicated the locality in which the church began its missionary activity. Even today, the American Africanist Lemarchand convincingly showed how in the postcolonial period, the struggle for power so politicized the concept of social belonging that the main determining factor was ethnic origin: you are either Hutu or Tutsi. 7

There were other, less significant features that were used to determine social affiliation. For example, the Kiranga-Ryangombe cult was very influential in many parts of the country, but the specific manifestations of this influence were limited and rather democratic in nature. This was expressed, for example, in the fact that the priests who played the title roles during the spiritual sessions, although they had a certain authority, their influence was limited to the limits of their own community.8 So was the influence of traditional healers and fortune tellers. With the advent of religious missions, hospitals, and schools, church leaders, local doctors, and teachers gained enormous influence. Marriages among these members of local elites further complicate the task of determining who is who.

Today, political figures are also well-known - both party leaders and deputies of local and national authorities. Some Burundians argue that the categories of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" can no longer serve as indicators of social affiliation, that the main feature is the nature of your professional activity, your belonging to a particular political spectrum, and your place in political life. Those who say so are wishful thinking. To any statements like: "we are above this, now it is no longer relevant, let's talk

* In Burundi (as in neighboring Rwanda), which has a population of about 6 million people, there are two main ethnic groups-Tutsi (about 14%), Hutu (about 84%) - approxed.

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about anything else" - you should be treated with a certain amount of skepticism.

First, while the most important indicators of social belonging for both Hutus and Tutsis are, of course, their place in the political system, their access to power, and their economic status, at the same time, this affiliation is largely determined by their ethnic origin. Most Burundians are well aware of who they are and what place they can occupy in society, as long as they do not hide their ancestry.

Second, four decades of political struggle and civil war have made the ethnicity factor extremely politicized, making it even more important and defining than it was before. Everyone knows who killed their relatives and what ethnic group the killers belong to. Moreover, in any social context, willingly or unwittingly, relations on the principle of "own" and "others"necessarily appear. Such relationships are overcome very slowly.

Even in cities, in these melting pots where everything seems to be mixed up, and people are able to independently decide with whom they should be friends and communicate, in which school their children should study and where they should live, even there people are not completely free in their choice. Behind closed doors, fear and hatred are still largely determined by belonging to a particular ethnic group. Differences and differences are deeply rooted in Burundi.


Traditionally, Burundi was a monarchy in which the Ganwa princes of the royal blood, acting as representatives of the regional administration, contributed to the national unity of the tribes. The tribal chiefs and councils of elders (abashingantahe) themselves were local authorities, ruling the villages and their inhabitants. In 1960, these local authorities were dissolved, and in 1966, as a result of a military coup, the monarchy was overthrown.

Formally, only one former institution has been preserved, although in a restructured form - the Council of Elders, and its status has become very uncertain. The despotic rule of the military, non-compliance with the Constitution, and finally the civil war completely changed the political climate and power structure in the country. The question arises: what remains of the traditional political ethos?

First, the national identity defined as Barundi, which symbolized the unity of all regions of the country. Both Hutus and Tutsis celebrated traditional national holidays together and on equal terms. Events on the occasion of the Mwami King's enthronement or death were also of a pan - ethnic nature.9 In mountainous areas, Hutus and Tutsis celebrate the first fruit harvest together.

The lengthy political negotiations that took place in Arusha, Tanzania, were typically Burundian in nature: all interested parties reached the meeting place on time, the negotiations themselves lasted so long that it seemed that they would never end, but in the end, everything was agreed upon.

Political power in the country is multi-layered, and the ethnic and social composition of the influential ruling elites largely follows the contours of the old political topography of Burundi.10 As for the negotiations in Arusha, considerable difficulties were caused by the external pressure that the participants were constantly experiencing. In order to achieve reconciliation, the mediator in these negotiations proposed a structure of power institutions in which all parties would have equal opportunities to influence various processes, since only in this case it was possible to revive real political life in the country. All of these institutions, apart from the Council of Mountain Elders, had nothing to do with the old traditions of Burundi.

The Constitution adopted in 2005, which served as the legal basis for the Arusha agreements, replaced the complex system of traditional authorities. Instead of the old institutions-mountain councils of elders, tribal leaders, princes of Ganwa, the king - new competing political authorities were created, a bureaucracy and a multi-party government appeared. Can political party leaders be considered the new Ganwa princes? Of course, even today, the distribution of lucrative positions in the state apparatus, the abuse of one's official position for personal enrichment - all this and much more is carried out in full accordance with previous political traditions, patrimonialism** operates in the republic exactly as it did during the monarchy.11

What are the current rules of the political game and in what direction is the country's political system developing? The revival of the Council of elders allowed the residents of the mountainous regions to feel themselves involved in political life, returned to them what they had been deprived of during the entire colonial period. But at the same time, the question arose: can councils of elders really solve the problems of local communities, settle disputes with neighbors in a peaceful way, or distribute land plots? Are they capable of

* Ethos-in ancient Greek philosophy: a set of stable traits of individual character (editor's note).

* * Patrimonialism is a form of traditional political domination of a single ruler, in which, unlike patriarchal domination, the head of state has more freedom of action and is less limited by tradition (editor's note).

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they play the role of gahuzamiryango intermediary 12. Or will these functions now have to be taken over by non-governmental organizations located outside the country?

Finally, it is unclear whether decisions taken at the local level should be approved by higher authorities. Such as resource allocation or dispute resolution. Traditionally, such decisions were always accompanied by shouts of " Bibgire Mwambutsa!" "Tell Mwambutsa about it!" Mwami Mwambutsa, like his predecessors, traveled with his court all over the country, listening to arguments and delivering final verdicts. Is the current President Nkurunziza capable of fulfilling this role? If he confirms the authority of local leaders, will this help strengthen his own power? Or, on the contrary, will his constant absence from the capital and thus his limited ability to carry out his national tasks reduce his political influence?


When we try to determine what Burundians are like and what zigzags we can expect in the country's political life, we must first take into account the following two factors. The first is the age structure of the population. In 2005, more than half of them were young people under the age of 25. In general, the majority of citizens were born after the country gained independence in 1960. Students of higher education institutions have only a vague idea of the violent outbreaks that have occurred in various parts of Burundi at the time. Most of their knowledge of history comes down to what they've heard in their home. The events of 1965, 1972, 1988, and even the relatively recent upheavals of 1993 - all this, although perceived by them as a trauma, is not personal, but as if passed down by inheritance. The current legislative system can dampen tragic memories, soften such recently sharp hatred, and promote universal reconciliation.

Of course, the younger generation wants to know their country's past. Since too many people have blood on their hands, the government has been dragging its feet for five years with the introduction of the institution of responsibility for crimes committed during the civil war. You need to know the history, because without it it is difficult to predict where the country will go when a new generation comes to power.


There are no serious works on the history of Burundi, and there is no consensus on who should be held responsible for past bloodshed and for what. At the same time, the country has strong traditions. Even the language itself, which is spoken at home and taught at school, conveys knowledge about "ancient customs and rules of life." Poetry, proverbs and sayings, music - all this tells about the past of the country and its people.

Burundian society is extremely conservative. The institution of family and marriage plays a crucial role in the lives of Burundians. The financial situation of the bride, her dowry, even if purely symbolic, helps the girl to find a family, and the wedding always results in a real holiday with an abundance of treats and drinks.

Parents always pass on at least some inheritance to their children. Those who can afford it try to give their children a good education and help them find a job. But most Burundians cannot afford to study, and you will find eloquent evidence of this situation in Professor Uvin's study 13. It cites evidence that nowadays ordinary cohabitation is more common than marriage, and most Burundians receive their education on the streets. Just to survive. A huge chasm separates the city's affluent residents-both Tutsis and Hutus - from the poor, regardless of their ethnicity or place of residence. Paul Collier's book gives a colorful description of the terrible conditions in which most of the population lives. 14 Only a dedicated, modern-minded government could help people overcome the barrier of poverty, but it is unlikely that the country will ever have such a government. Most likely, this gap will grow, and the country will become poorer.


What does the United States care about this small country, which one American ambassador to Burundi used to say: "It will never appear on the screens of American radars." The events in Rwanda in 1994-1995 also drew the attention of the international community to neighboring Burundi. Responsibility for what was done and attempts at reconciliation were the main goals that were on the agenda at that time.15 And to separate one from the other, in my opinion, was impossible. However, punitive measures greatly hampered reconciliation.

Another task was to restore mutual trust among different ethnic groups, which was not an easy task, since since 1965 people of different tribes have constantly accused each other of all imaginable and unthinkable sins. 16 Incredible efforts were made in this direction, which quite unexpectedly gave a positive effect. However, the new authorities, and especially the security forces, still have a lot to do. After years of antagonism, it is not easy to revive both a sense of respect for one's fellow human beings and a sense of belonging to a single nation.

The management's plans for 1995 included broad support for non-governmental organizations.-

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international organizations operating on the territory of the country, as well as local and national ones. Such support should continue to build on deep-rooted community traditions, rooted in the Kiranga cult, and in modern religions practiced in mountainous areas. It was NGOs that played a leading role in pulling the country back from the cliff edge that it had come to as a result of the civil war. Even today, they continue to promote social reconciliation.

Both in 1995 and today, the task of protecting human rights remains relevant. If civil society is ready to engage in this work, the Government has not yet fully understood the importance of this task. It is not that Burundians do not value human dignity. It's just that the main thing for rural residents is not individual or personal values, but family values.

Since the establishment of the Contact Group in 1995, it has been an important part of U.S. policy to work with the African Union, the United Nations, and both sides of the ethnic conflict to ensure an effective role for the international community in Burundi.17 Following the outbreak of violence and ethnic pogroms in 1998 in Ngozi, international observers were deployed to the conflict zones to act as witnesses and deterrents. Their presence was part of a strategy aimed at establishing peace. Developed by US Ambassador Dan Philips, it is called "reconciliation in Burundi".

Over the past decade, the effectiveness of this presence has steadily increased. It would seem that such a policy is contrary to common sense. Burundians were always quite hospitable to individual foreigners who came to their country. At the same time, they tended to be hostile to uninvited guests if they arrived in groups at once. Thus, the local tribes kept Arab slave traders in constant fear, mercilessly killed the first Christian missionaries, did not like, to put it mildly, the German and Belgian colonialists, and for many years in every possible way restricted the activities of the international community in Bujumbura18.

The agony and suffering of the civil war forced them to turn from anger to mercy and open the country to international observers, with whom reasonable advice and real help came to the country. Nevertheless, the international community should persist in exerting pressure, while coordinating its efforts.

The politics of modern Burundi have always been unpredictable and bloody. As a result of the autocratic system of governance, the genocide, and finally the civil war, the traditional model of governance, which has always been an important element of national traditions, was replaced. Today, however, Burundians are once again showing a willingness to return, at least partially, to the old methods of governance based on the old communal principle.

Now the country is finally at peace. It is truly priceless. May God grant that it will become eternal and grant, in the end, a peaceful and happy life to the inhabitants of the country.

Translated from English by A. V. DENISOV

1 The announcement was made in good French. At the end of the day, the citizens were addressed in Kirundi by the Crown Prince, who was not so scrupulous in his choice of expressions. Educated in Europe and knowing almost nothing about the country and its people, he declared himself the ruler of an ancient African monarchy.

2 The same question can be formulated differently, using the expression of Max Weber, who said that there is every reason to say that " a person's character is formed by the economic and social conditions in which he exists." Quoted from: Weber Max. The Nation State and Economic Policy - in: Political Writings (ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Spiers). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 15.

3 Augustine Nsanze's work is devoted to the socio-political significance of this name. See: Nsanze Augustin. Le Burundi ancien, l'economiedepouvoirde 1875 a 1920, Paris: Editions L'Harmattan, 2001. P. 24 - 26.

4 In addition to the concepts of "nation" and "home", there is the term "igihugu", or "country", which has a rather broad and vague meaning. It can be a "small homeland", and a native province or "igihugu" itself. Ibid. P. 15 - 24.

Zuure Bernard 5. L'ame du Murundi, Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne et ses Fils, 1932, especially "Epilogue"; Pauwels R.P.M. Imana et les cultes des manes au Rwanda. Bruxelles: Acadcmie royale des sciences coloniales, 1958.

6 For the courage shown by NGO members, see Bukuru Zacharie. Les quarante martyrs de Buta. Paris: Karthala, 2004, Niyonzima David and Fendall Lon. Unlocking Horns. Newberg, OR:Barclay Press. For the role played by NGOs during the civil war, see: Watt Nigel. Burundi: Biography of a Small African Country. New York: Columbia University Press.

7 See chapters 4-5 in Lemarchand Rene. Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice. New York: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994.

8 See: Berger Iris. Religion and Resistance: East African Kingdoms in the Pre-colonial Period. Tervuren: Musee Royal de lAfrique Centrale, Annales, 1981. No. 105, especially Chapters V and VI; and Rodegem F.M. La motivation du culte initiatique au Burundi. Anthropos, 1971. Vol. 66.

Chretienjean-Pierre 9. LAfrique des Grand Lacs. Paris: Aubier. 2000, p. 108 - 109; Trouwborst Albert A. Le Burundi - in: Les anciens royaumes de la zone interlacustre meridionale: Rwanda, Burundi, Buha. Tervuren: Musee Royale de lAfrique Centrale, 1962. P. 144 - 145; Nsanze A. Op. cit. P. 152 - 158.

Trouwborst Albert A 10. Op. cit., p. 143 - 153.

11 For the role of patrimonialism in African politics, see Patrick Chabal and Daloz Jean-Pascal. Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Niyonzima David 12 and Fendall Lon. Op. cit. P. 29.

Uvin Peter 13. Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi. London: International African Institute, 2009.

Collier Paul 14. The Bottom Billion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Part 2.

15 См.: Burundi's Commission of Inquiry Resolution. State 187050, 5 August 95.

16 См.: Ad Hoc Meeting at NSC regarding Rwanda and Burundi, White House, August 22, 1995.

17 The Contact Group was established because African countries decided that Burundi was unable to implement radical political, military and social reforms on its own, without international participation.

18 See: Perraudin Jean. Naissance d'une eglise: histoire du Burundi. Bujumbura: Les Presses Lavigerie, 1963.


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