Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Sad News from Burundi: A Reminder of Bad Old Times Like Something Out of Novel

It's been a couple of montha since I checked to see what was happening in Burundi, the small country on Lake Tanganyika which also has been the scene of much ethnic violence in the last 20 years, although not as much as in its twin Rwanda. The sad news is that things are not going well: 14 bodies were discovered last week north of the capital Bujumbura and several opposition politicians have felt it necessary to flee the country after recent elections.

Nine years ago exactly I spent a short time in Bujumbura to research a novel, The Violets of Usambara. It was a moment when it appeared a power sharing arrangement could be worked out between Hutus and Tutsis. And, indeed, in the years following violence declined and a semblance of order returned. The round of elections this spring and summer appeared to augur well, in fact. But the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reports that tensions have been high for the last months, even though thousands of Burundians who had taken refuge in Congo are being encouraged to return home, with a similar return of Congolese from Burundi underway.

Sadly, the news this week sounds much like the scenario I painted so long ago. In my story which takes place in 1997, a Canadian politician on a fact-finding mission goes missing outside Bujumbura in an area not far from the border with the Congo. It turns out that he and his driver were killed by persons unknown. What happened recently sound eerily similar. The IRIN story says: "Earlier this week, 14 bodies were discovered in marshes near the Rusizi river, about 10km northwest of the capital, Bujumbura.

“It is difficult to identify them or say where they came from or even whether they are the bodies of Burundians,” Police Director-General Fabien Ndayishimiye told a news conference.

He pointed out that the east of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo “is home to the bases of various rebel groups, with skirmishes reported almost daily. Even yesterday we heard gunshots. So far no Burundian has told us about any missing family members. We see bodies but they are not identified.”

The following day, however, the head of a fishermen’s association told reporters four new bodies had been discovered in the river with Burundian identity papers in their pockets. "

How sad that so little has changed.

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