2 mei 2021

In april 2021 verscheen onderstaand artikel van Omana Andrew David in Academia Letters, Open Access.
Voor belangstellenden plaatsen we het volledige artikel.

Where is it safe for Burundians, within or outside Burundi?

This paper attempts to locate when, how, and where safety could be found for Burundians given the circle of conflicts that the country has experienced right from towards independence to date. In attempting to locate when, where, how, and what it means to be safe, the paper surveys the precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial environment to prove the same. Given the tumulus situation that ensued in Burundi right before independence to date, the paper concludes that it is indeed very difficult to locate what it means to be safe. Safety could only be realized for Burundians if they sit as a people, accommodate each other, and accept to let the principle of unity in diversity prevail.

Every human being has feelings. One such feeling of import is the feeling of safety. As a universal experience, to be safe means to be free from “hurt or harm” (Preisler, 2013), or “to feel protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.” (Yun, 2020). Besides emotional or physical safety, from a security perspective, being safe also extends to not being exposed to economic, health, environmental, political, communal, and technological (cyber) harm or hurt. This notwithstanding, however, being safe is relative. For, safety depends on prevailing circumstance at a place and time. To the extent, any place can be safe or unsafe at any time. Just as so, looking at the events that have been unfolding in Burundi right from before independence to present, locating safety in Burundi context is somewhat complex. As such, one may ask, has Burundi ever been like the way it is from time immemorial or it got like this because of the different groups’ need to be at the echelon of power just immediately before political independence and thereafter? If what we see came with the attainment of political independence, would the country have been any better if it remained under the Belgian administration? Definitely, getting convincing answers to these questions is hard because of the sensitivity and emotions it exudes. However, tough as it may be, attempting to answer the questions can shade a ray of light on locating safety for Burundians, whether within or outside their country. This short paper, therefore, attempts to go down the memory lane and surveyed the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial Burundi society so to see when, where, and how to be safe looks like for Burundians.

Precolonial Burundian Society
Apparently, there is no single authoritative source of information that candidly describes pre-colonial Burundian society given the oral nature of people at the time. To the extent, there are many shades of story on the origin of the different group of people who eventually settled in the area now known as Burundi. Of the many traditions, Floribert Ngaruko and Janvier D.Nkurunziza (2005) asserts “The currently dominant school of thought” is the French school. This school contends that the major group of people converged in Burundi from different parts of the African continent at different times. The commonly known narrative is that by the time the Hutu farmers and Tutsi herders come to settle in the present Burundi between the 11th and the 15th centuries, the land had already been inhabited by the Twa hunter-gatherers (Chrétien, 2000). Eventually, these gathers, farmers, and herders coalesced and developed common cultural practices. In terms of social setting, like any other African society, within the quasi-feudal regime, precolonial Burundi society was arranged around the family, village, clan, chiefdom, and king-dom (Kimber, 1996). At the family level, the family head protected members of the household from external aggressions. At the village and clan level, the people identified with each other and protected themselves from external aggression under the leadership of the clan or village head. Eventually clans and villages merged under a strong leader to form a chiefdom/kingdom. Whereas within this setup, there developed “a hierarchical system founded on the domination of the farmers” and the hunter-gatherers “by the herders in a quasi-feudal regime” (Ngaruko & Nkurunziza, 2005, p. 35), there was protection of people’s lives and properties from any forms of aggression, both internally and externally were ensured. For, everyone felt a sense safety, notwithstanding some minor feuds registered here and there as a normal process of human progress. As we shall see below, this arrangement started to change with the coming of colonial powers in Burundi.

Colonial Burundi: Sowing the seed of insecurity
The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 at which “major European powers negotiated and formalized claims to territory in Africa” (Heath, 2010), saw the Belgians taking control of Burundi. Most historians allude that the advent of the Belgians colonial administration formed the basis of starting of changes in relation within the Burundian society, especially when they exploited the existing structures and amplified the division within the Burundi community of Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas, as three distinct ethnic groups. In this new dispensation, the Tutsi took the privileged position as opposed to the Hutu and Twa (Boyi, 1999, History World, n.d). The situation became even worse in the 1930s when the Belgian colonial authority undertook reforms that radicalized the Hutu -Tutsi (Chrétien 2000), and by extension Twa categories. The act of replacing all Hutu chiefs by Tutsis, as part of this reform marginalized the Hutus from power and made the once a dynamic class system to gradually became a rigid system largely characterized by Tutsi domination over Hutus and Twas (Ngaruko & Nkurunziza, 2005). Consequently, Burundians, especially from the Hutu and Tutsi groups internalized this representation of Burundi society to the extent of using it as a source of resentment and conflict. With the different groups polarized; regionalism, and Rwanda’s 1959 Social Revolution which Ngaruko & Nkurunziza (2005) alludes to as sources of turmoil in Burundi only acted to fun the charged state. However, in spite of the hardships the people went through during the colonial rule, no incidences of mass exodus to foreign countries were reported, save for those who went to other countries to work for money and return to improve their households.

Spiral of hope and insecurity: the difficulty of locating safety for Burundians
To start with, the ethnic division introduced during the colonial rule set the stage for political alignment, a situation that continued into the postcolonial time. Whereas, towards independence, Prince Louis Rwagasore seemed to have seen the danger of such alignment (BBC, 2018), unfortunately, his attempt of uniting the Hutu and Tutsi into one party was frustrated by an assassin’s bullet. After independence in 1962, the spiral of instability that came in 1965, 1972, 1988, 1991, and from 1993 to date (Ngaruko & Nkurunziza, 2005). The assassinations, civil wars, military coups, and clinging to power that characterized the postcolonial Burundi has forced many into exile where others kept within the country at different time. Given socio-economic, health, educational, and political security that ensued in both milieus, it is difficult to say who is safe and where- thus relativity of safety (Nkurunziza, 2017). To understand the difficulty of location better, an evaluation of the situation both in Burundi and in exile could shade a ray to locate where, when, how, and what being safe means for Burundians.
As noted above, whereas the chaos that ensued in Burundi forced some people out of the country, others remained within. At different times the people who remained in Burundi got state protection, went with their own business, used the apparent peace to improve their lives, acquired resources, and sent their children to schools. More so, they were able to move freely within and outside the country. However, with time some of them became insecure, especially those who were opposed to the sitting government, and or those suspected to be spies or supporting rebel groups. Besides, whenever rebels attacked, some of those who remained in the country got displaced or died in cross fire, thus becoming unsafe in the place they initially considered safe.
On the other hand, those who ran into exile and were able to cross the boarders at first felt a sense of security in their country of refuge. For example, those who went to Tanzania were at first welcomed with open arms, and felt at home. The late President Julius Nyerere referred to them as “resident guests”, and allocated land for them to settle in. Through intermarriages, they blended with the local people and boosted the economy of the country. Likewise, those who went to Rwanda were received by the Rwandese as brothers and sisters in need, and the same applied to those who went to Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC), Uganda, and other countries. Unfortunately, as time went by the safety that the Burundi refugees felt in some of the countries was short lived. Starting with those who went to Rwanda, after the genocide, since some Burundians were accused of participating in the genocide, they became a target (BBC, 2018). As a result, they relocated to find safety in DRC. Equally, DRC also became unsafe. The rumour that their camps became a recruitment centre for Rwandan and Burundian rebels led to attack from a joint Rwandan, Burundian, DRC and Ugandan forces. Wonton destruction of lives and properties were registered. The same happened in Tanzania. Due to diplomatic pressure from Burundi, the Tanzanian government started to restrict, arrest, and expel some of the refugees from their country (IRIN, 2006). Rapists raped women and girls who went to collect firewood (Human Rights Watch, 2019). Besides, life in the camps became unsafe given both rebels and government of Burundi agents used it as recruitment and arrest bases. Consequently, some people decided to self-repatriate in search for safety.
After signing the 2000 Arusha Peace Accord and the subsequent agreements some semblance of safety was restored both in and outside Burundi given warring parties laid down their arms and joined the government of national unity (History World, nd). However, the events from 2015 to date has created another dilemma of locating safety for Burundians (BBC, 2015).

From the forgone analysis, locating when, how and where it is safe for Burundians is a real paradox. Therefore, in order to achieve safety for all Burundians, it is imperative that the political elites, cultural and religious leaders, and academics should come together in the spirit of humanity and forge a way so that the masses learn to accept one another in spite of their differences. A life of accepting the other in the spirit of unity in diversity is the only way to go. When such is realized, even those who go out of other countries will be respected well knowing that there is a country they call home. This will make people of other countries not to look at them as stateless refuges but rather respect them as people belonging to a sovereign nation. And no one will ever call them refugees anymore!

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