Wednesday, 14 November 2007

News from Burundi, Rwanda's Non-Identical Twin

The tortuous road toward peace and reconstruction in Burundi took a step forward last week—or maybe not. First Deputy President Martin Nduwimana resigned November 7, saying that he “did not want to be an obstacle to peace.”

Pierre Claver Nahimana, a leading member of parliament for the opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) told IRIN, the UN’s information agency, that he hoped the government will now have enough power and capacity to speed up negotiations...but also rein in paramilitary groups who are robbing and killing innocent civilians.”

But Nduwayo Gaspard, a political analyst and university lecturer, is not so optimistic, the IRIN reports. The resignation will not change anything since deputy presidents have no real power, he said.

This sounds arcane if you haven’t been following the political life of this non-identical twin to Rwanda in the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa. Burundi went through 13 years of civil war which was not as bloody as the 1994 explosion of violence against Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. For the last five years it has been inching toward a government where both ethnic groups will work together under a plan mediated by Nelson Mandela. Troops from other African countries played peacekeeper during the first part of the effort. If Burundi eventually does succeed, it may become an example to the rest of the continent of Africans solving African problems.

I went to Burundi six years ago to research a novel I wanted to write, The Violets of Usambara. Since then I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I saw and to read about that country in particular and Africa in general. (The book will finally be published next spring by Cormorant Books: in fact I’m supposed to send my final revisions to the publisher tomorrow.) I’m beginning to think that Paul Theroux was right in his book Black Star Safari, which he more recently reworked into an op ed piece for The New York Times: “Africa has no real shortage of capable people - or even of money. The patronizing attention of donors has done violence to Africa's belief in itself, but even in the absence of responsible leadership, Africans themselves have proven how resilient they can be - something they never get credit for.”

Photo: Bujumbura, October, 2001

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