Has Replaced Hatred: A Visit to Gitega, Burundi Prison
Adrien Niyongabo, HROC-Coordinator, Burundi
that you are called to do good to the one who did wrong to you. In that
way, instead of pushing the person away from you, which will put all
of you into isolation, you bring the person back to you, which will
put all of you into communion.
Andre-Claude, Mi-PAREC driver of van that carried people to the prison
is a Tutsi woman living in the Mutaho IDP (internally displaced persons)
camp. On October 21, 2004 on the last day of a Healing and Rebuilding
Our Communities (HROC) workshop she was attending, she said, “I
am happy that I leave this workshop with a new dream that there will
be a special day. That day, I see myself going to the Gitega prison
where our former administrator is kept. I will ask to see him. I will
be bringing him food (a sign of reconciliation in Burundian culture).
I will hug him. He will not, maybe, recognize me. I will tell him that
I come from Mutaho IDP camp. I will show him that love has replaced
hatred. I will be happy that day.
husband and many family members were killed in late 1993 when violence
swept through Burundi after the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, the
first democratically elected Hutu president in Burundi. She fled with
most of the remaining Tutsi in the area to the Mutaho IDP camp where
she has been living for more than a decade. Andre Ndereyimana, the man
Agnes was referring to, was the Hutu administrator of Mutaho District
in 1993 and has been jailed since that time, along with many other men
from Mutaho accused of leading and participating in the killing of the
Tutsi in the area.
is about 25 miles north of Gitega, which is in the center of Burundi.
The Mutaho area was one of the regions most destroyed by the fighting
in 1993. The commercial center of Mutaho—once a large square with
two story buildings on all sides and a market place in the center --
was completely destroyued. Many Hutu and Tutsi killed each other in
this area, so former neighbors and friends became enemies. The two groups
became separated as the Tutsi moved to IDP camps, while the more numerous
Hutu stayed on their plots in the countryside. For the last ten years
there has been little communication between the two groups.
from the Mutaho IDP camp in the follow-up HROC workshop agreed with
Agnes in wanting to meet with the former administrator and others accused
of killing and destruction in the area. The HROC program invites ten
Tutsi from Burundian IDP camps and ten Hutu from the surrounding community
to come together to try to re-establish normal relationships which have
been mostly non-existent for the last decade. The workshops deal with
psycho-social trauma and its symptoms, stages of grief, and the differences
between negative anger and positive anger. On the last of three days,
attempts are made to restore trust between the two groups. One particularly
effective exercise is to draw a tree of mistrust showing the roots and
fruits of mistrust, and then a tree of trust which allows the participants
to envision how they may move from the place of distrust to one of trust.
Agnes and the other women want to meet with the person who is accused
of organizing the deaths of their loved ones? The testimonies in the
workshops indicate that there is a very heavy burden when someone keeps
the trauma, grief, anger, and hatred inside him/herself for years on
end. People frequently feel that they are “lightened” when
the heavy burden is lifted from them. The women in particular see the
effects on their children. Do they want them to grow up in this divided
society with the hatred of the enemy? Will not the division bring another
round of violence in ten, twenty, or thirty years which, most participants
think, will be worse than the last cycle in 1993?
Kambayeko, is a pastor of the Friends Church in Burundi, a Tutsi living
in the Mutaho IDP camp, and one of the facilitators in the workshop
that Agnes attended. He reported that a group of Tutsi widows living
in the IDP told him how the two trees: Trust tree and Mistrust tree
have impacted them. They emphasized that in order to give a place to
the Trust tree, as single parents, they need to prepare the way for
their children and grandchildren by forgiving their wrongdoers. One
way to do that would be to go to Gitega prison and meet the Mutaho Hutu
former officials. The women said, “Maybe they would doubt our
act because what they did to our families is woeful, but we will not
give up. We will go there for a second time, sit with them and talk.
We need peace for our next generation.”
gained permissions from the Provincial Administration to visit the prisoners.
On Saturday, August 20, 2005, eighteen people from the Mutaho IDP camp,
including some men, went to Gitega to visit the prison. Before they
went to the prison the group gathered at the conference center in Gitega
called Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation under the Cross (Mi-PAREC)
to meet Pastor Elie Nahimana, the General Secretary of Burundi Yearly
Meeting of Friends, Levy Ndikumana, the Director of Mi-PAREC, and me,
the Coordinator of the HROC program. Levy told the group that the Gitega
Prison Director was very happy and excited to receive us as promised.
The first day he allowed us to meet with a delegation of the prisoners
from Mutaho for a short time. A few seconds after the gate was opened,
five men came up including the former Mutaho Administrator, the former
President-Judge of Mutaho tribunal court, two former teachers and one
started hugging each other—a very touching and emotional scene!!!
Unbelievable! Watching them hugging each other with such open smiles
and nostalgia, I could not think that horrible killings happened between
these people. I could hear some saying, “Yes, he is the one. Let
me hug him!” “Oh, yes I do recognize you! You were my neighbor.
How is your family doing? Good to see you!” “Amahoro, Amahoro!
[Peace, peace] Praise God for we can meet here after so long a time!”
“This one looks like the ones that I know. Are you the daughter
of...?” “Yes, I am.” Ohh! Amahoro, amahoro! Thanks
to God for you are still alive.
After the greetings, Andre Ndereyimana, the former Mutaho Administrator,
said, “I am Andre Ndereyimana. You would understand that, as a
head of the administration in those times and knowing what happened
in our area, I have a lot on my back.”
Sebastien shared with the group their motivation for coming, he said,
“We know that many of you who are kept here have held us in your
hands on our birthdays, others are our brothers and sisters. We remember
that we used to be living in harmony. That is why we have been missing
you so much for these last ten years. We came here to testify how we
love you. This may look contradictory, but it is real! You are still
important to us. We still hope that one day, you will be home with us
again. God’s will is always good. This idea of coming to visit
you started at a HROC workshop we attended in Mutaho. Many in the Mutaho
IDP have supported it, but only eighteen could get space in the van
today. Many others would wish to visit with you on Tuesday to share
what is in our hearts.” Then he asked one of his colleagues to
hand over the envelope of money that the group had been collecting for
their “friends” in prison. The delegation of prisoners was
very touched and surprised by the loving heart showed by their former
neighbors. They were also very thankful for their initiative in supporting
them morally and financially, as life is not easy in prison. The group
would have preferred to stay for long but as the time given was over,
they gave each other a goodbye hug hoping to meet again the following
Tuesday. Mi- PAREC volunteered to cover transportation cost for the
group from Mutaho on Tuesday.
23rd of August 2005, eighteen people from Mutaho, mainly from the Mutaho
IDP camp, came for their second visit to their former neighbors who
are in the Gitega Prison. If more transportation would have been available,
many more other people would have joined in the visit. Nevertheless,
those who were able to come were representing all those with such willingness.
As in the first visit, the group was joined by Pastor Elie Nahimana,
Levy Ndikumana, and myself.
entered the prison, we were welcomed by one of the prison officials
and with the prisoners native to Mutaho. I remember this scene when
folks were greeting each other. It was moving! Around twenty prisoners
were hugging with those who came to visit them. And, Louis from Mutaho
IDP camp said: “Is that old man my former neighbor? Oh, no, that
one is too old!” And when he came closer, they hugged and laughed.
“Do you know my friend, I could not recognize you.” And
the prisoner answered, “Don’t you see that I have become
old! It is not a joke, my brother. This place would have taken me half
of my life, I tell you! The conditions are too bad! Tell me, how are
my wife and children? I heard that some died from malaria. How are the
remaining doing?” And Louis said, “Fine! But you would know
that poverty is shaking every one there. But they are doing fine—
they can manage.” After the greeting time, individuals introduced
themselves. Levy Ndikumana was the master of ceremonies. He expressed
his joy at seeing the visit happening and indicated it as a big step
towards reconciliation after what happened in the Mutaho community.
He wished a very enjoyable time to all gathered.
the former Administrator of Mutaho Commune in 1993 and now kept in the
Gitega prison, thanked the people from Mutaho IDP for their visit. It
showed a real caring heart for those in prison, “I am very touched
to see you again. Last time, when we met for a short time and you said
that you were going to come back, I could not believe it. Because, I
said to myself that Mutaho is too far from here and I do not see how
these people would get this energy and courage. And today, you accomplished
what you had promised. It brings a big relief to us. You know, since
we entered here in this prison, we do not know how the moon is like,
neither the stars because before the night comes, we all are obliged
to enter our rooms until the morning. It is too painful being here.
From one morning to the next one, we are locked inside. It is during
that time that one remembers all of what happened. And what follows
the bad emotions, regrets, images of what we saw and so on. It is too
heavy for us. So, to see your coming to visit us is like a miracle.
The heavens are open for us and we rejoice. This gives us hope that
another day, God will give us an opportunity to meet in the community.”
As it is
a custom for all Christian gatherings, Pastor Sebastien Kambayeko led
us into worship using the passage in Eph 4:25-27: “Therefore,
each one of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor,
for we are all members of one body. In your anger, do not sin: do not
let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil
It would have been our preference to stay for more time, but when the
worship was done, we had only five minutes to say good-bye to one another.
That was then the time folks started sending little messages to their
families. “It is too bad that we did not get time for testimonies.
It would have been a very wonderful way to put on the surface what this
day has brought to us,” said one of the prisoners. However, during
that short time for a good-bye hug, we asked two prisoners to shared
how they were feeling. “How did you feel when you saw the people
from Mutaho here?”
the belief, beyond my belief! Sitting with them here, I just forgot
the sentence pronounced against me. They brought me a new light. It
is a new birthday for me!”
When we asked Athanase Barajingitwa, a Hutu and former primary school
teacher, how he finds his stay in the prison, he said, “I would
say that there are three categories of prisoners who are communally
accused of what happened in 1993. 1) Those who really did kill, 2) those
who are suspected of having collaborated with the killers or other wrongdoers,
and 3) those innocently accused of genocide though they did nothing
harmful. The last category is for people who were only disliked by their
neighbors because of their ethnicity. In order to have them pay the
‘broken pots,’ bad things were put on their backs so that
they would be jailed.”
“The people who came to visit you acknowledged having been helped
by the HROC and conflicts resolution workshops they have attended. What
do you think about such opportunity here in the prison?”
is really powerful and impressive! I would want to attend them.”
you be willing to be trained as facilitator and afterwards volunteer
to facilitate such workshops here in the prison?”
would be super. It would be much more impressive if we can go around
the country with you conducting those workshops. I am sure that soon
I will be released!”
all goods things to Athanase and may all his wishes be done.
the prison, I was able to question some of the Mutaho IDP people. I
was impatient to hear from Angès Ndayishimiye, the woman who
the first suggested the idea. I asked her, “How do you feel after
this visit in the prison?”
joy, enthusiasm, proud! I am very excited because I have been able to
unfold the love, forgiveness that I have been holding for a long time.
I miss words to express my feelings. It is a special day for me and
you get a sense of having achieved something by going to the Gitega
yes! I have showed my loving heart to those in prison. I am sure that
it has been a good surprise for those in the prison to see so many people
with such caring heart coming from our IDP camp. They would never have
imagined that! Well, I am certain that I have planted a tree of trust
handsome man we talked to is Marius Nzeyimana, a Tutsi from Mutaho.
Many of his relatives were badly slaughtered. Marius is now staying
in the IDP camp with many of his in-laws who are orphans and widows.
could you tell me what you are feeling after this visit?”
my colleagues are, I am also very happy, joyful, overwhelmed! It is
a new step we made, an important one towards the recovery of our community.
‘The wheel has turned!’ We should not stay stuck in the
past. We need to rebuild our country, our communities. Actually, I would
not want to interfere with the justice’s job [punishing those
found guilty], but it would be my strong wish to see those in prison
[Hutu] being released. It is true that I have lost many of my relatives
and loved-ones. They are no longer alive. What sense would it make to
lose two persons when you can rescue one? Even if the one to be rescued
used to be your enemy, one needs to get the necessary strengths to rescue
that person. That is where my forgiving power comes from.”
did you get to that commitment, Marius? I find it very courageous!”
have attended many workshops organized by Mi-PAREC on conflict resolution.
I was still traumatized, though I was not aware of it. After I attended
the HROC workshop, I realized how traumatized I was and found how I
could heal. Holding all the bad emotions inside of me had kept me a
prisoner of hatred. As soon as I realized that, I could let it go and
I found the strength to forgive. HROC has been a real catalyst in all
Sebastien Kambayeko, the HROC lead- facilitator from Mutaho IDP camp,
did not want to hide his pride.
heart is full of happiness, joy and excitement. The dream has become
reality. Last Saturday, after our short visit with the prisoners’
delegation, I was astonished by the congratulations that we received
from those with whom we are staying in the Mutaho IDP camp. Years ago,
not many in the IDP camp would have appreciated such a visit to the
former Mutaho leaders kept in the prison. Instead, we would have been
threatened. Praise God for that! I express my feelings of great gratitude
and thankfulness to my teammates here, to HROC and Mi-PAREC for their
undeniable support. It is true that I cannot change people, but I am
sure that people could learn from what has been achieved.”
Elie Nahimana and Pastor Levy Ndikumana also took the opportunity to
thank all the actors for this big achievement.
Elie said, “This is a great event for our Friends Church in Burundi.
Most of the time, many people quickly recognize this or that organization
because they see the many houses and roads built or can count how many
people have been given food, blankets and so on. It is not often that
the community healing and peace building organizations are familiar
to those who would not have been in the program. I am fully convinced
that the valuable work done by HROC and Mi- PAREC has brought a lot
to the Mutaho community and elsewhere. One of their fruits is this visit
that you have made. It is a big testimony that you have showed. We strongly
recognize the good collaboration in peace building between the Friends
Church in Burundi and local administration. We wish to keep this collaboration
with the new government too. As Friends, we will never give up, with
our diverse services, to be near the population, especially the vulnerable
Levy Ndikumana stated, “We praise your ongoing efforts in spreading
out the peace building work. I am very excited to realize that among
the peace committees that we are working with, the Mutaho one is among
the best ones. It would be my great joy to see Mutaho being rebuilt
after the massive destructions that occurred there. This would never
happen if the Mutaho folks are not involved in peace building, Hutu,
Tutsi and Twa together. We congratulate Pastor Sebastien Kambayeko for
his leadership. He has been a wonderful contact person in Mutaho. I
think that we need to have many like him. We are very enthusiastic to
hear you saying that the HROC workshops and Mi-PAREC conflict resolution
seminars have enabled you to get to this stage. This shows how complementary
these two programs are. Back in your communities, please keep peace
with everybody. We are now observing many changes in our country’s
leadership. The 1993 conflicts should have been a lesson to all of us.
Then, we should not let ourselves be used by anyone who would want to
disturb the peace in our community. Instead, resist them and be an instrument
of change for the community’s well being.”
I approached Aimé-Claude, the driver from Mi- PAREC, who helped
with driving the group back and forth from Mutaho, “How do you
see this visit?”
is no way that you can do such a thing without being led by God’s
Spirit! The Spirit led this group! I have a great respect for them.”
do you mean by being led by God’s Spirit?” “Understand
that you are called to do good to the one who did wrong to you. In that
way, instead of pushing the person away from you, which will put all
of you into isolation, you bring the person back to you, which will
put all of you into communion. This group has showed a wonderful way
of communion. May all Burundians follow this excellent example.”
later in 2008 some of those in the Gitega prison had been released and
were reintegrated back into the Mutaho community. Adrien Niyongabo,
Coordinator of HROC in Burundi, went back to Mutaho to interview people
from both sides—the villagers and the prisoners—to see how
this affected their lives. Révérien Ntukamazina was in
Gitega prison when those from the Mutaho IDP camp visited and was later
released, so he has integrated back into the Mutaho community:
I had been
in prison for three years when colleagues said somebody wanted to meet
me at the gate. I jumped out at the opportunity, and as I approached
the gate and saw Pastor Sebastian [a HROC facilitator], I just started
crying, and then he also cried. He greeted me and told me that he had
come simply to visit me as he had been my neighbor. We chatted a little
bit, and they had brought us food and money, and we prayed for a while,
and sang hymns.
It was the first time to see Tutsi come to the prison to visit the Hutu.
They brought us food and money, but a rumor came that the Tutsi were
coming here for no good-- that they came to get us. “They are
finding out who is here and bringing food with poison.” But I
said, “The bananas are good, and as they look normal, how would
they have put poison in them?” I grabbed four bananas and I ran
to the kitchen. I ate one and then the second before a friend from Makauko
grabbed one and said, “If you die, I will die too.” And
another friend from Gutshuru did the same. When we went to sleep at
night, one person woke me up just to check if I was still alive, in
fact I was quite happy to have eaten the bananas because it had been
so long since I had eaten bananas, because they are expensive and prisoners
can’t afford them.
The next morning we were together with the prisoners from Mutaho to
share the food, and as they knew we had eaten some, they all wanted
their portion. And God answered our prayers, because we are now out
of the prison.
the visit because afterwards people wrote letters to their churches
and missions, saying “Even Tutsi from Mutaho came to visit the
prisoners! Yet you have never come to see us – Have we been forgotten
by our homes?” And when the administrator of Gishuli followed
our example by bringing food, the people of that district said it was
not enough, because while they were thankful that food had been brought,
they said, “What about the people from Gishuli themselves coming
to visit us? We would like cooperation, just like when we saw the people
of Mutaho talking to the prisoners from Mutaho.”
workshop I attended after I was released, I learned how to live in harmony
with others, especially those who were accusing me of having killed
or helped to kill their relatives. It was not easy. When I was in the
prison, a widow came and accused me of having facilitated the killing
of their relatives as I was a leader in the commune. But it wasn’t
true. Another woman falsely said, “One time you followed me with
a machete and tried to kill me.” It was only later, after I had
been released that she retracted her claims. I really felt pleased to
know that she was recognizing what she had done. And I said, “You
are my neighbor, please don’t be afraid anymore. If you come to
the community to cultivate your plot, if you don’t want to carry
your hoe home, I can just keep it for you. Or if it gets dark and you
don’t want to go home, stay at my house, you will be safe.”
And we got once again connected, and that was my experience from the
Ndereyimana was being held in the prison in 2005, but by 2008 he had
been released and was reintegrated into the Mutaho community:
heard that people from Mutaho were coming to visit us in the prison,
we were surprised at first, and we were also suspicious. Not only us
but other prisoners who were not from Mutaho were saying “Be suspicious--those
people coming to visit us from Mutaho who say they want to visit you,
it’s not with an open heart. They want to see who’s still
alive here and then they will see how they can kill you.” We all
had such fears at the beginning when we heard about the visit. But by
the end we came to see that they really did bring us money and food
just out of love.
time together and chatted and at the end we had a prayer. I remember
them saying, “We don’t want to come back to visit you here.
Rather, we want you to be released and be able to go home and then we
can visit you at home.” It was like a dream.
The visit to us in prison meant a lot to all of us and it was a very
strong foundation to our re-integration. Once we were released we were
afraid of going near the IDPs because of all that had happened between
happened – I was walking around and there was a group of IDP people
nearby and one of them would recognize me from the prison visit. He
would rush and come and hug me. That was really special! And the others
around me would be wide-eyed, saying, “What is happening? I don’t
understand --this guy is hugging a former prisoner!” It was really
touching, just to see how deep the conversation was with the person
from the IDP camp, and it was also a big part of feeling welcome in
the community. Now, when we are out we sometimes stop by where they
live and they stop by us, and this is only because we feel supported
by what we have shared.
Nijimbere was among those from the Mutaho IDP camp who visited the Gitega
The workshop made a big difference – I was no longer a woman who
felt under pressure. I became happy by allowing myself to forgive, and
from there I was able to ask to become part of the team who would visit
the others in the IDP camp did not understand why we did the visit.
They even went so far as to imagine that we were being paid money by
Hutu to have the visit. But of course this wasn’t true for any
of us. It was from the love, the compassion that we learned in the workshop,
and knowing that we need to rebuild our community.
Nzeyimana was among those who visited the prisoners.
What we got from the HROC workshop has really made a big impact in our
hearts. Before it, I would never think of going to visit the people
who were in prison in Gitega because one of them had killed my brother.
But from the change that the workshop caused in me, I was able to be
part of the team that visited the prison. It was not easy to suggest
that we contribute food and money to the prisoners while knowing that
one of prisoners had killed my brother. But I did it because I have
not everyone was happy about the visit. If you have reached out to create
a friend, the enemy of your new friend will not be happy with your new
relationship, and that person might do whatever he or she can to make
your friendship fall apart.
me, when we did the visit, it was like putting down a heavy load I had
been carrying. If you are traumatized and you see the one who caused
your trauma, it continues to re-traumatize you, or might cause you to
just run away because it is too much. But choosing to reach out was
a way of digging out– you know this root, the root of war, the
root of killing – it is deep in our hearts. And we need to uproot
it, and in order to uproot it we need to start by forgiving those who
are close, who are in our communities.
if I have purchased something on store credit, but then I delayed to
pay back my debt, I would always feel ashamed, and if I came upon the
shop owner I would want to change my path because I feel he is accusing
me. The same way, when someone has done something wrong to you, especially
these killings, he or she will come to avoid you, whatever he or she
did, but it’s up to us to start because we are the victims, to
start letting them approach us, because we have loved each other, and
we need them to see the love we are carrying for them and draw them
to us. So that’s what we did.
in Kirundi, “The medicine of bad actions is not more bad actions.”
I learned this to be true – now our relationship is like brothers.
The man who killed my brother now comes to help me cultivate my plot
and I go help him to cultivate his. This makes other people in village
question themselves, saying, “Hmmm, Marius is a Tutsi and the
other man is a Hutu, how is it that they are helping each other when
they know what happened between their families?”
So the visit to Gitega was very, very fruitful. Fortunately, after the
visit, some of the prisoners were released and now they are back in
the community. And now we are sharing. When we meet at the bar, we share
the same beer, whereas that was never possible before. So it has really
strengthened our relationship and it has created a sense of forgiveness
in our community. That’s why I am asking you to do more HROC workshops
for everybody living in our community.