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Recovery in Mutaho, Burundi:
Introduction to Mutaho, Burundi

By Adrien Niyongabo

Mutaho is one of the communes that compose Gitega province, located in central Burundi. Because of its position on the route between Gitega and Ngozi, Burundi second and third largest towns, Mutaho’s central district attracted many businessmen in the 1980’s. A hospital in Mutaho, managed by doctors and nurses from Italy, had become the only place to go to receive good treatment at a reasonable cost. The various crops that are grown in the area made the Mutaho open market a vital point of supply for other localities in the country. Schools and churches started flourishing. Considerable traffic was apparent on a daily basis. Life was very enjoyable in Mutaho.

As with many other areas in Burundi, Mutaho did not escape the horrible nightmare that hit Burundi. On October 21, 1993, the first democratically elected Hutu president, after having served only three months of his presidency, was assassinated by a group of Tutsi military men. From there, Hutu launched massive killings of Tutsi in some localities of the country. Then, as retaliation, the Tutsi military responded by massacring Hutu and then back and forth killings began. One week after the assassination of the Hutu president, Mutaho was already contaminated by the craziness of Hutu-Tutsi bloodshed.

The former neighbors, who had shared joy and sorrow in community life for years, suddenly became enemies. To murder a Tutsi neighbor, just because he/she belonged to the group in control of the government and military, turned out to be a mark of prowess. The military retaliation, in the name of protecting Tutsi, made things worse. And the cycle of carnage that began with this hunting for human beings needed only few months to make all that had made Mutaho prosperous evaporate in smoke. The stores at the market were broken into and their goods were stolen, the homes set on fire, people fled to the sound of the cries of babies and adults, the sound of machetes, and the firing off of guns. The once admirable hospital was ransacked and the personnel forced to leave. Darkness covered Mutaho. Tutsi who survived the killings abandoned their homes and gathered in a place which later became an Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camp that was protected by Tutsi military forces. Hutu left their homes and had to spend their nights in the valleys or bushes for fear of being murdered by the Tutsi military.

With the peace initiative that was led from both within and outside of the country, the people of Mutaho were able to recover a more or less peaceful situation that enabled Hutu to return in their homes. Still, sporadic attacks forced them to flee to the bush as shelter. However, with the 2000 peace accord agreement between the Government at that time and the main faction (CNND-FDD) that was opposing the government, Mutaho was able to dream of returning to lasting peace as the open fighting had stopped.

In the aftermath of the war, Mutaho is facing a lot of problems and concerns. Uncountable widows and orphans are without help. Only the ruins of the old business district stand as reminders that Mutaho used to be a center for commerce. What is left of the hospital buildings remind the people of Mutaho that many lives that used to be saved from death because of the good care of that very talented staff used to provide. Many people are homeless and can only hopelessly gaze at the ruins of what used to be their birth place. Above all, the Internal Displaced Persons Camp at the center of the Mutaho tells the whole commune that a lot is still needed to have a safe life in the community and ensure a village of brotherhood. Hutu and Tutsi need a lot of healing and sustained reconciliation for hatred and suspicion to be replaced by love and trust.