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The Challenges in Burundi

October 12, 2011

SFCG has worked continuously in Burundi for peace, reconciliation and conflict resolution.

Conflict over land has hindered Burundi’s efforts toward peace for decades. The disputes evolve around land that the owners left in 1972 after the government responded to a rebellion by killing hundreds of thousands and forcing an equal number to flee the country. Their abandoned land tracts were occupied or redistributed by local officials to people who left their own less-fertile plots elsewhere.

Owning land is for the majority of the population crucial as it is the main income generator in Burundi, one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. About 90 percent of the country’s10 million people live in rural areas and earn a living by keeping livestock or selling crops.

In 1992 refugees who had fled twenty years ago, after the government had responded to a rebellion with massive killings and expulsion, returned to participate in the election of a new government. Land conflicts between residents and returnees helped trigger the post-election crisis, which led to a decade long war. The war killed 200,000 people, destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, cut agricultural production by half, and produced a second wave of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Most of these refugees have been able to return and fortunately their land disputes were largely resolved. Disputes around land from the first wave of refugees who left after the government violence in 1972 are more difficult to resolve because legal land titles from that era are scarce and those living there now have rights to the land too. These complex cases can often only be solved by mediation.

Beyond conflict with returnees, other conflicts over land in this country pressed for space abound. Inheritance, in particular often causes conflict within families especially for women and children of polygamous relationships.

Search for Common Ground began working in Burundi in 1995 and has focused on mediating land disputes with three approaches: Radio, Participatory Theater and Conflict Mediation Trainings. Each program with its challenges and successes will be described in more detail in a separate blog.

All the programs face some similar challenges, for example how to measure the program’s impact. Also, the inclusion of women is a delicate balancing act. SFCG has attempted to include women in the trainings, but at the same time tries to target influential people, who are mostly male. Another double edged sword is the increase of independent media, because it means that SFCG has to share airwaves reducing the program’s availability and impact. At the same time, there are fears from the international NGO community that government censorship is increasing. Land is not an inexhaustible resource and with Burundi’s population growing rapidly, effective means to resolve and prevent it are necessary .

SFCG has already successfully trained government officials in mediation and negotiation so that different approaches can be sustained.

In the future problems around the youth bulge could arise. Many young men and women are leaving the rural areas to seek employment in the cities, often without much success. These young migrant workers are habitually more prone to social ills, temptation and criminal activities. In the past SFCG worked with the youth through its Youth Program. SFCG organized conflict-resolution trainings; retreats and exchanges for diverse groups of youth; sports events and tournaments. The goal was to bring together youth from different ethnic and geographical backgrounds for recreational and solidarity-building activities.

How do you think SFCG could contribute to preventing these new problems that could potentially arise from unemployed, unsatisfied youth? Do you have a project idea or a certain peacebuilding approach in mind? Let us have your thoughts, comments and inputs by replying to the blog, commenting on Facebook or sending us a message through Twitter.

Read more about the past programs in the next blog.

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