Postcards from Bill Timpson's Travels
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We at Atwood Publishing are delighted to have the opportunity to once again collaborate with one of our long-time authors, Colorado State University professor, Dr. Bill Timpson. Over the years, Bill has sent us postcards as he has traveled and emailed us short essays that draw on his journeys for inspiration. Below are his Postcards from his time in Burundi. First, however, is his most recent Postcard, inspired by a visit to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.



School Shootings and Peace in International Contexts

Peace Breakthrough

Facing angry mobs as they hurled threats, rocks, and bottles, Mairead Maguire chose umbrellas for defense and helped spark a revolution in thinking about guns, peace, and prosperity. Mired in polarized positions following British colonization and three hundred plus years of fighting between independent-minded Catholics and Protestant loyalists to the United Kingdom, the people of Northern Ireland were in desperate need of new thinking, a new paradigm for moving forward.

By her own account, Maguire was an ordinary person who became radicalized for peace in 1976 after seeing her three young nieces die when a Belfast policeman shot at a suspected IRA driver whose car then swerved into a crowded sidewalk.

Calling on others who also wanted change from the fear-based thinking that relied on paramilitary protection for their segregated communities, Maguire helped to organize weekly marches of Protestants and Catholics into these secular and social class enclaves in order to reclaim Belfast for all its citizens.

Knowing that they would face a storm of taunts, rocks, and bottles from local residents, their “weapon of choice” was the umbrella, ubiquitous because of the weather but equally useful for self-protection. The media began to record these events—the marchers, mostly women at first, huddling under their umbrellas as local residents attacked them—and the images went around the world, increasing the calls for change.

Maguire would win the Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts. Eventually, those in established leadership roles on both sides, primarily men, came to recognize that a “war” was unwinnable.

The Good Friday Peace Accord was eventually signed in 1998, and a process started to “demilitarize” the situation. Paramilitaries on both sides agreed to decommission their guns. The British agreed to downsize their military presence. Irish-American sympathizers agreed to shift their financial support from weapons to economic development. The guns had to be taken off the streets for sustainable peace and development to have a chance.

Personal Breakthrough

As an educator who teaches about conflict resolution, communication, cooperation, and critical and creative thinking—the essence of peace-building—I have been struggling to offer something useful in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, as well as the numbing annual toll of gun violence that claims over 10,000 American lives annually.

Spending time studying the peace process overseas offers some useful insights. Spending time in the natural world can also be helpful.

Along with my experiences with peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland, I also work with the University of Ngozi in Burundi East Africa. That impoverished nation is emerging from colonization and forty years of genocide, civil war, and violence. One legacy of all the violence there is the all too easy access to guns and hand grenades when conflicts do emerge.

We are hoping to help reform their University’s curriculum, so that every student also graduates with some skill in peace making—something every informed citizen in every democracy should have. With a signed memorandum of understanding between the University of Ngozi and Colorado State University, we are hoping to take lessons learned there about “sustainable peace and development” to broader audiences everywhere.

If Northern Ireland and Burundi can move past violence, surely we can do the same. Like them, we can also study peacemaking and learn how to turn our disagreements into creative, nonviolent catalysts for new thinking. We can all commit to using our own version of the “umbrella.”

What a contrast to visit the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, hear about the amount of theft from public lands that occurs monthly, and then see the warnings against firearms on the doors of the visitor’s center. Would umbrellas “work” in the U.S.? Does everyone need to “pack heat” to be safe? Somehow the existence of these contrasts in this particular national park, amongst the once living trees now encased in stone, provides an ironic metaphor, reminding us that we are still captive to a Wild West paradigm where guns and violence are too often seen as the answers.

Bill Timpson is a professor at Colorado State University, a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Peace and Reconciliation Studies, and the author of Teaching and Learning Peace (Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing, 2002). An earlier version of this Postcard was published in The Coloradoan,



Welcome to Postcards from Burundi

As part of his Fulbright Fellowship, Bill is visiting the African nation of Burundi to take part in a peace and reconciliation project, entitled The Amahoro (Peace) Project: Building Sustainable Peace and Development in Post-Conflict Burundi. “Amahoro” is the word for peace in Kirundi, the official language of Burundi. The project was designed to actualize the belief that “development must wed with educational innovation to ready new leaders and professionals to heal and foster civil society.” (Read more...)




Warriors, Peacemakers, and Post-Genocide Burundi
Part 1: The Background

Soldier and corn field

In Cultures of Peace, Elise Boulding makes a strong case for studying peace, observing that historians have focused for too long on the events of war as the most dramatic markers of their eras, leaving the events between the wars relatively unexamined. Just what did contribute most to whatever peace existed? Who gets what credit? Boulding writes (2000, 4):

In general, societies tend to be a blend of peaceable and warrior culture themes—the balance between the themes varying from society to society and from historical moment to historical moment. In our time, the tensions between the two themes have become a heavy social burden as a worldwide military forcing system linked to a destructive, planet-harming mode of industrialization and urbanization is distorting the human capability for creative and peaceful change. . . .

If every society is a blend of the themes of violence and peaceableness, why is the peaceableness so hard to see? It is there, but not well reported. The tendency of planners and policymakers to prepare for worst-case scenarios leaves societies unprepared for the opportunities involved in best-case scenarios.

While students at the University of Ngozi embrace Boulding’s call for “best-case thinking,” it is worth exploring in greater depth why worst-case thinking can be so distorting and problematic.

Peace Is More than the Absence of War

In The Heart and the Fist, former U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (2011, 11) describes his understanding of the complexities of war and peace.

I had seen it before in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and other places where courageous people found ways to live with compassion in the midst of tremendous hardship. Across the globe, even in the world’s ‘worst places,’ people found ways to turn pain into wisdom and suffering into strength. They made their own actions, their very lives, into a memorial that honored people they had lost. On the frontiers—in humanitarian crises, in wars overseas, and around some kitchen tables here at home—I’d seen that peace is more than the absence of war, and that a good life entails more than the absence of suffering. A good peace, a solid peace, a peace in which communities can flourish, can only be built when we ask ourselves and each other to be more than just good, and better than just strong. And a good life, a meaningful life, a life in which we can enjoy the world and live with purpose, can only be built if we do more than live for ourselves.

Warrior Culture

In Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer describes the events, attitudes, and culture that surrounded the death from “friendly fire” of U.S. Ranger Pat Tillman, who left the National Football League to volunteer for the Special Forces after the attacks of September 11, 2001. After maximizing the patriotic propaganda of this story among a sports-crazed public, the military tried to cover up his death from trigger-happy fellow soldiers.

Important here is an understanding of the “warrior culture” that surrounded the Tillman story—a culture that is bred by the armed forces, yet shielded from public view because of its violence and the casualties it produces among its own ranks. A curriculum that promotes sustainable peace and development, something we are trying to build at the University of Ngozi, would have to expose the truth about the darker sides of our policies and practices (Krakauer 2009, 202).

The majority of the Rangers in Tillman’s platoon hadn’t joined the Special Operations Forces in order to go camping in exotic lands; they’d enlisted to be part of a rarefied warrior culture. Engaging in mortal combat was not an aspect of their service they sought to avoid. To the contrary, they’d aspired to it since they were small boys. They were itching to confront the enemy firsthand and prove themselves under fire. Approximately half the platoon had never been in a firefight. Most of the untrained Rangers yearned to experience the atavistic rush of having to kill or be killed—a desire more common among the male population than is usually acknowledged in polite company.

The unit had been in Afghanistan for nearly three weeks without encountering a single bad guy, and their daily hunt for enemy fighters increasingly had the feel of a wild-goose chase. More than a few of the Rangers who had never been in combat were growing frustrated, and had begun to contemplate the shameful possibility that their tour might end before they earned a Combat Infantryman Badge.

The Dilemma of “Friendly Fire”

In recent wars, in particular, the U.S. military has mounted a determined public relations operation to emphasize the sacrifice and service of the men and women who enlist without exposing the “shadow” side of war to public view—how the training, deployments, and practices, for example, also led to shameful disgraces, like what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where prisoners were routinely abused, humiliated, and tortured; or the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, where 350-500 men, women, children, and elderly villagers were slaughtered by a U.S. Army company led by Lt. William Calley.
Training for combat also means putting very dangerous weapons into the hands of young men who are often, when we are honest, eager for the dangers and thrill of combat, where glory can be won and honored with medals and promotions. Thus “friendly fire” becomes a reoccurring problem, just one type of incident that is usually hidden from public sight.


War and peace are complex topics, yet essential for citizens of every nation to study and understand, lest the forces of violence overwhelm the very best of intentions. Every nation that has a military has its own dark secrets that it hesitates to share.


Barcott, Rye. 2011. It happened on the way to war: A Marine’s path to peace. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Boulding, Elise. 2000. Cultures of peace. New York, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Greitens, Eric. 2011. The heart and the fist. Boston, MA: Mariner.
Krakauer, Jon. 2009. Where men win glory: The odyssey of Pat Tillman. New York, NY: Doubleday.

(This postcard is full. Will have to start another! ― Bill)




Warriors, Peacemakers, and Post-Genocide Burundi

Part 2: The Lived Experience

Timpson and villagers

The Students of the University of Ngozi

Christian was born in 1988. He identifies as a Tutsi. He studies communication and wants to be a journalist. He is optimistic about the future because he believes that Burundi can chart a new course through the difficult terrain from the past that involves ethnic conflicts, genocide, and civil war. “I am hopeful about the future. There are really no problems with ethnic differences. The political parties are the problem. Our student Association for Communicating Sustainable Peace and Development could teach others. We could teach about living together. Some politicians came to teach ethnic hatred. Without peace, however, there is no development.”

When asked about the presence of Burundian troops in Somalia fighting against Al Shabaab, the militant Islamic organization allied with Al Qaeda, Christian responds with a challenge to any fighting force: “It’s good that Burundians are fighting to help Somalia. However, they could also teach about peace and reconciliation and help with discussions.”

Gabriel was also born a Tutsi in 1991 in Rwanda. He is an Economics student at the University of Ngozi. His parents were killed in the 1994 genocide and he was raised as an orphan by adoptive parents. He smiles easily and has a very gentle presence. What he remembers is “being hungry and afraid during those many years of war, violence, and fear. I remember that Tutsis were excluded from school. Eventually the overt discrimination stopped, but people are not the same. My adopted father changed his ethnic identity so that he could more easily find a job, but then the state refused my appeal for help since I was no longer a Tutsi in their eyes and did not need state assistance as a victim of genocide."

Gabriel is able to analyze what exists and then argue for what could be. “The University of Ngozi (UNG) has been very welcoming, although foreign students do pay higher fees. Even though students are able to communicate and cooperate across ethnic and national lines, UNG should still teach more about the past and about peace building.”

As for Burundians fighting in Somalia, he is also able to separate the present from what might be possible. “It is a good thing that we are helping them find sustainable peace and development.” All in all, he is “hopeful about the future. People are smart. They know where they are coming from. If they know this, they will know better where they are going.”

As for constructive ways forward, Gabriel offers this: “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Rwanda has been helpful. That same process should help Burundi. I myself would like to have the killers of my parents ask for forgiveness. However, they could never find my parents’ bodies.” Even if the killers could be found, “I don’t think that they would find peace sitting in jail.”

When I ask him about any feelings he might have for revenge, he quotes from a poem that was recited by Nelson Mandela during his years of imprisonment and featured in the film Invictus. “I am the captain of my soul.” He continues, “It is not good to forget about the past. Knowing the past lets us plan for the future.”


Lemarchand, Rene. 1994. Burundi: Ethnic conflict and genocide. New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Cambridge University Press.




Sustainable Peace and Development in Post-Genocide Burundi

Part #1

The Fog: An old man against the setting sun

Rye Barcott’s (2011) autobiography, It Happened on the Way to War (New York: Bloomsbury), describes his “path to peace” as he journeys from an undergraduate using the ethnic violence in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya as a senior thesis topic, to enlisting in the Marine Corps and his subsequent tours of duty in Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Along that route he identifies some crucial lessons learned. “What I didn’t realize then was that the appropriate levels of force, as well as support, were always difficult to identify because they were based on fluid realities concealed by the fog of war” (266).

That phrase, “the fog of war,” was originally coined by Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz to describe the “fog” of complexities and uncertainties that engulf battles, military engagements of all sorts, and war generally. The phrase became the title of a documentary on the Vietnam War and the realization by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, late in life, that the U.S. had it “wrong”—that we were dealing with a civil war, not a “domino” Cold War conflict orchestrated by Moscow and Beijing that, if lost, would “topple” other countries in Southeast Asia.

Barcott describes similar insights that his father got as a Marine during the Vietnam War: “He walked the suspected Viet Cong to a nearby artillery battery and turned him over to the commanding officer for interrogation. However, he never received any feedback or intelligence about the suspect, despite his many follow-up requests for information. Forty years later, Dad reflected, ‘Uncertainty abounded. Feedback from upper echelons was unreliable and scarce. Members of each unit seemed uninterested in anything but their own primary task. Few officers spent time acquiring and sharing possible new knowledge about the enemy and the nature of our conflict’” (260).

Thinking about his own wartime experiences juxtaposed with what he learned building a non-profit organization to work on health and leadership empowerment in the slums of Kenya, Barcott concludes that “[our] Horn of Africa Task Force convened multiple sources of American power and influence to win ‘hearts and minds’ in a troubled region that we believed was highly susceptible to transnational terrorism. It was an impressive group, and it was what I thought America needed to be doing around the world. Shoot less, give more. . . . Long-term military engagements were often fatally flawed because they lacked continuity and regional expertise” (242, 245).

A Different Metaphor

The stories from young students in Burundi—who lived through some of the genocide, war, and violence leading up to and following independence in 1962—echo this same need for insights into a peaceful way through the uncertainty of conflicts. Because they grew up among wars, threats, and dislocations, these university students have the “continuity and regional expertise” to see the essential importance of a commitment to sustainable peace and development.

As opposed to waiting for the “fog” of war to lift, a different metaphor—wiping off the “dust” that obscures the peace within—describes a more active process of peace keeping (separating combatants), peace making (defining the terms for maintaining the peace), and peace building (the skills of communication, negotiation, mediation cooperation, consensus building, etc.) that can prevent the outbreak of hostilities.

(This postcard is full. Will have to start another! ― Bill)




Sustainable Peace and Development in Post-Genocide Burundi

Part #2

The Dust: The red dust of Burundi

As Children We Had No Problems

Toissaint was born in 1983, and in 2012 is completing his second year as a computer science major at the University of Ngozi (UNG). He would like to be a programmer or engineer in the future. He identifies as a Tutsi. "In 1993 during the war, I lost my sister and we were refugees upcountry. We never returned to the capitol city of Bujumbura. We were very fearful during that period. Before 1993, as children we had no problems. We didn’t know if we were Hutus or Tutsis. After 1993, there were conflicts and tensions. After the president was killed, the Hutus wanted revenge. My sister was butchered. My father escaped, but my uncles and grandfather were killed.

Toissaint’s analysis points to the complexities surrounding these conflicts and violence. "Burundi is difficult to understand. There was not an ethnic problem before 1993. We have one language and one culture. Some say it’s the body (physical features-Tutsi were thought to be taller and with a more angular nose) that matters. One of my cousins looked like a Hutu, but was killed. The other cousin claimed to be Hutu and was left alone."

Some insist that poverty was a primary source of tension. Toissaint disagrees, but does acknowledge the intersection of factors. "Poverty is not the issue. It was not a problem at the time of the war. However, because of poverty, people think less about ethnicity."

More salient for many was the explosive history of ethnic conflicts that stemmed from the imposition of minority Tutsi rule by first the German colonizers and then the Belgians. Independence in 1962 heightened tensions with the Hutu majority, and lead to the most horrific of genocidal campaigns as the Tutsi-dominated military designed its own version of a "final solution" to eliminate the educated Hutu leadership. A series of wars followed.

Toissaint describes what he remembers from living in Burundi’s capital city. "From 1994-1996, there were some living quarters for Tutsi in Bujumbura, and others for Hutus, and you could be killed for crossing these ethnic boundaries. Some politicians provided weapons or money to attack the ‘enemy.’ The killings then happened for revenge." According to Toissaint, the answer lies, in part, in our schools and universities, where we can do more to wipe off the dust of conflict and "teach about peace." He adds, "Those who don’t go to school often cause problems."

I’m Not Sure Who Began the Conflict

Clilamyde was born in 1988 and identifies as Burundian and Tutsi. His memories reflect the uncertainties in the fog of war. "In Ngozi there were few troubles, although we heard of people killing each other. I’m not sure who began the conflict. The Tutsis had guns. The Hutus wanted revenge. I had uncles killed. Others became refugees, but no one was killed in my brother’s family."

He then describes the mix of factors that helped clear the dust of conflict—some people stepped forward to challenge the rush to war and others fled, while various nations in the region stepped in to help negotiate an end to the fighting. "Why was Ngozi peaceful? In my region some Hutus wanted to attack Tutsis, but others said, ‘Wait. Why do you want to do this?’ Some refugees went to Rwanda, some to Tanzania. The rebels fought with the government troops. Tanzania helped Burundi move to discussions and the Arusha Accords."

Clilamyde sees the benefits of a collective effort to stop the violence and teach an alternative ethic. "The University of Ngozi is a good place to teach peace and reconciliation. We are supposed to be intelligent here [and be able to respond] when politicians come to preach hatred and violence. Those with wisdom can teach others. We have to forgive each other. We need to change those minds that seek revenge. I have hope for the future. My classmates begin to understand that there is no need to continue the conflict. Our responsibility is to teach peace and reconciliation, step by step.

"Having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good idea," he says. "Remembering the past must be considered within a wise process, learning from others. Our student Association for Communicating Sustainable Peace and Development at the University can go out into the community, but we need to know how to best approach people. Like the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the Quaker Peacekeepers, we need to teach peace and reconciliation within a system."

Shifting metaphors allows us to see more clearly how human action can be so essential to peace keeping, peace making, and peace building. Waiting for the "fog of war" to lift makes way for wiping away the "dust" of violence to see the peace within.




Bill blowing up balloons
with the kids

We hiked yesterday and had fun with some local kids when I brought some CSU balloons out.
― Bill Timpson


Brian: There are so many challenges here and that is exciting

Brian teaches law at the University of Ngozi (UNG). Our office spaces made us neighbors, although he shared his 20 foot by 20 foot space with another law professor and I shared my space with the Spanish teacher. He was born in France, completed a Ph.D. in political science, taught a year in Tahiti, and found this three-year assignment in Burundi for minimum salary and free University housing. “I live simply and it is enough.”

He’s amazed at the capacity for forgiveness in this country. “My girlfriend’s mother was killed and sometime later her father hired the killer to do some work on their house. I was shocked. I couldn’t have done that. My girlfriend said that this guy was jobless, they knew him and the quality of his work in the past. My girlfriend’s father also worked next to a guy who had been one of the chief executioners for the security forces, directly responsible for maybe 2,000 deaths. ‘We had to work together, to collaborate,’ her father said.”

My discussion with Brian led us to the impending start of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Burundi. “It should be useful for some,” Brian said, “but it’s late. However, it will be important for new generations to know about the past. They should focus on ‘why,’ and not ‘who did what,’ I think.”

The issue of the role of ethnic identity will undoubtedly surface. “It’s complex,” Brian insisted. “That identity is passed on by the father. Yet the historic designation of Tutsi and Hutu also had much to do with social status and job classification. Tutsis were in leadership roles, often as royalty. Hutu were the underclass, the farmers, laborers, and servants.”

After a long hike, we are having lunch at an upscale restaurant – by Ngozi standards – with a white marble feel to the inside and Greek-inspired columns. We sit outside on a balcony with a panoramic view of a valley and the small farms below and on the opposite hillside, with the brown dirt road to Getega cutting down and across. We can see bicycles in the distance barreling down the steep grade. The plumes of dust that rise mark every vehicle that is moving.

“Subsistence farming,” Brian notes. “Small plots and large families mean more pressure on the land to accommodate more people. The trees get cut and the land is eroding. You can see it on the highway to Bujumbura after a hard rain. The steep sides come sliding down onto the road. Rwanda, in contrast, has planted trees, grasses, and bushes to stop the erosion.” I remember seeing large brick retaining walls built along that highway.

Brian with the kids

“Educating girls seems to be a key to controlling population growth. Of course, having large families is one way to cheat the average life expectancy, which is 35, or half that of Europe and the U.S. More kids mean that more are likely to survive past 35. That also means more hands for tending their agricultural plots, goats, and cattle.” In stark contrast to the youth-oriented U.S. culture, “Burundian elders, in turn, are considered wise and fortunate to have been able to grow old.”

“Investment in education is complex, however. While primary school is now free, there is still the cost of uniforms, pencils, and paper. And half the medical doctors who graduate leave the country after graduation for better salaries in other parts of Africa or Europe.”

Consciousness is important. “A typical 10% tip for a meal of $BF16,000 (approx. $USD12) would be $BF1,600 ($USD1.20) or three times what a laborer makes in one day. The discrepancy would be destabilizing in the long run.”

“There are so many challenges here and that is exciting. Money is a problem for any project start-up, but honesty is critical. Corruption is a problem.”




The Student Association for Communicating Sustainable Peace and Development
“We want peace and love for all.”

The Student Association for Communicating Sustainable Peace
and Development with Bill

We gather with Lambert to talk about the year’s efforts. Nine students are having a meeting to finalize the statutes so that they can be officially approved as a University of Ngozi (UNG) association. I ask about what they have done over the past twelve months. Elias, the Club’s President, empahasizes that “this work is important. It’s what we learned in class with you last summer. Another says, “We have a hard period in the nation with wars and injustice. It’s been difficult for the young. We want peace and love for all. We want to prevent any violence, like what we had in the past.”

Still another adds that “working together is a sign of unity and love. We must prove first to others that we can work together. We are the future.” One of the two women present insists that “students are seen as intelligent and able to communicate to others who may be illiterate. We can help find solutions for our country’s problems.”

Our interpreter for the Amohoro Project, Lambert, teaches languages and communication at UNG and has served as the Club’s staff contact for the past year. He’s been most impressed by the students’ sense of initiative. “These are mature students. It’s not up to me.” In response, one student offers that Lambert has played a useful role being nearby and offering advice: “We feel free with him. We are sure that the University is with us. They think about our future.”

On Wednesday evening, June 14, the Association hosts a “feast” to welcome their “supporter” (over the past year I had sent $50 [US] each month to support their efforts), list their accomplishments, and enjoy some beer, Fanta, Coca Cola, cheese, and meatballs. This is the first “feast” for a student association at UNG. There are some 50 Club members present and many are wearing the official tan T-shirt with the white dove in a circle and “Sustainable Peace and Development” written around the outside. The UNG and Colorado State University (CSU) logos are at the bottom. They sit on two sides of a head table that seats six, with a bright basket of artificial red flowers in the middle.

Others are wearing green CSU “Cross Country Track” T-shirts or CSU basketball shirts of different colors and designs, gifts from my own university. I feel that I could be on my own campus.

The Master of Ceremonies (MC), Dedionne, has his T-shirt under his suit. The other two officers present, Elias and Celestin, also wear very nice suits with their Club T-shirts underneath. One of the members brought a stereo system that plays in the background and gets turned down when someone is offering comments to the entire group.

The MC starts the event by asking the Rector (Provost and priest) to say a prayer. Then, one of the core women from the group in class that formed the very first Association recites an original poem, short and sweet, that draws much applause. The Association’s President, Elias, speaks, acknowledging those at the head table and describing what they had accomplished throughout the year. The Rector says a few words about the importance of the Association and how the University is dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

In between each speech is an interlude of music and more beer, Coca Cola, or Fanta. I am asked to say something. I tell them that I am honored to be there, that they inspire me. I note how much Burundians can teach Americans and others about moving toward peace after years of war. I am honest about how I love my country, but have been opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how I believe Americans are miguided with our exorbitant military expenditures, despite the protection of oceans on both coasts and friendly neighbors north and south.

After three hours we adjourn with many hearty handshakes, some quite elaborate, as is the style among the young. It is so inspiring to be among people who have come through so much violence and are so clear about the importance of moving toward sustainable peace and development.






"If only we could start over."

Rice sifting the traditional way. They enjoyed having a mzungu (white) interested in one
of the daily routines of life. ― Bill Timpson

Graziella is a very articulate fourth-year interpretation student, whose command of English allows her to discuss the most complex issues in a fluid, even rapid-fire manner. She hopes to become a journalist for the BBC, or a writer. In her mind, "the violence in Burundi stemmed from misunderstandings between the ethnic groups. After independence in 1962, heroes on both sides were assassinated. Then there was genocide in 1972 and the revenge that followed in a series of civil wars."

"I am Burundian," she says proudly. "Some tell me that I am Hutu. We need to tell the truth about the past, but we also need to know how to resolve the problems. There is a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has begun, but many are reluctant to participate. That Commission has much to do. Some people will ignore it. I know that violence will never resolve problems. Instead, we can teach about negotiation in schools and at the University. In Somalia, however, the Burundian government had no other choice [but to intervene and help the Somali government against Al Shabaab].

"I think that student clubs could be developed in the provinces to serve as a focus for change. So often, poverty became a source of conflict as politicians used poor people to gain power."






"Revenge cannot bring my father back."

Lambert with his family

Bitama is a smallish, twenty-five year old with the biggest of smiles. When I ask about his experiences during the violent past forty years, he refers to them as a "very bad period. Hard. Burundians killed each other for no reason." He is talking about the years leading up to 1993, which he remembers distinctly, even though he was then only six years old. He saw machetes used. Just as his father was about to drive others to safety, he was called away by a local commander who came to say that "someone wanted to see him. We never saw my father alive again. And there was no way to have a funeral."

"It was very hard on the family to survive after that," he goes on. "It hurts. I could pursue some form of revenge, but I should forgive." When I ask him about his identity, he quickly says, "Burundian. Although my mother and father were Hutus."

We talk about the role of the school. "We cannot ignore the past," he insists. "We should teach about it. The civil war was a mistake, and we must correct what happened in the past. The ethnic identification of Hutus and Tutsis was created by Europeans. Secondary schools could teach about conflict mediation. Burundians see that the past is over. They are tired of fighting; they don’t see any importance in it anymore."

"I was very protected by teachers. They did not want to tell me that my father had died. I knew that he had studied in India in the past, and I thought that he had gone to America for more studies. The teachers even paid my school fees. Secondary school was more difficult to afford, but I did not want to be a child of the streets. I think that it is the duty of the government to support students in their studies. In high school I had to ask my classmates and others to help me make the required fees. Then on to the University. I continued to face problems, both emotional and intellectual. I saw my life, my chances, ending. Fortunately, I helped out with a political campaign and got some money for that."

"Poverty was really the purpose of all that fighting," Bitama continues. "It was about resources, stealing. Are those in government there to take resources through taxes and serve the people or get rich? Many politicians wanted to remain in power and control that access to resources. They sparked groups to attack each other."

I ask about Rwanda’s new law that bans any ethnic identification; everyone is a Rwandan. Everyone I talk to is supportive of this, often pointing to personal experiences where identification as Hutu or Tutsi could have cost them a job, or a place in the University, or even their lives.

I ask Bitama about forgiveness―if he could forgive the commander who killed his father. "I imagine that he is still alive, but revenge on my part cannot bring my father back. However, we must study the past, so that we can correct the present and prepare for the future."

And that leads me to ask about the Burundian troops fighting the militant Islamic group, Al Shabaab, in Somalia. ″If we are there liberating Somali, and looking for peace, then it’s a good thing. Al Shabaab has not been willing to negotiate. However, it would not have been good for Burundians to go into Libya or Tunisia to fight."

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