In 1998 and for several years thereafter, during the fighting here, the South African military came in as the first wave of African Union (AU) troops whose mission was to work with the Burundi military in peace-keeping activities. The AU was then followed by UN troops, some of which still remain.
This was a difficult time for everyone. For many, it resulted in quickly leaving the country for refugee camps either in to the west, to the Congo or to the east, into Tanzania. For others, simply ‘ducking’ and hoping for a quick end to the fighting and related problems.
I remember sitting in restaurants – and then fighting would break out – and deciding if we should stay, and wait it out, or try to head for home – or for a safe retreat? The problem was not knowing where the next ‘bomb’ would land in the city.
Cadavers floated up on the beach from time to time and sometimes a member of our staff would receive word that a relative had been killed – or worse yet, a group of relatives and friends had been massacred.
Going home one night I was stopped, and an AK-47 was put to my head. As always when driving, I was holding the Motorola of the embassy, and said that he could shoot me if he wanted, but that embassy folks on the other end of the radio were listening and would come out immediately in helicopters and destroy him and his comrades. He did not shoot me.
I kept a diary and also tried to take pictures during important events – not always easy. I share some of them below.
In the following picture, Burundians fleeing the country for camps in the Congo. This was the 3rd time since 1972 that the country has been bound up in ongoing massacres and refugee flights.
Above, rural folk gathering for a meeting on the security situation. (Picture taken from my car)
South Africans organized a training exercise once or twice a week, that took place right next to us, on the grounds of the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika, which had been ruined and had not yet been reconstructed. Here is how the South African training went:
Most tragically, on one exercise a soldier slipped and fell into the lake. The helicopter pilot was new and did not realize that if he flew close to the lake over the person, the strength of the wind from the helicopter blades would force the person under the water. He was not found until a few days later, having drowned, and no more of these exercises were conducted
I think I’ve put the above picture up before. It is a rebel road block, of which there were many. I never had any problems at them. You gave some money and went on your way.
(Below) Very often I organized BBQs or other fetes for the South African and Burundian military, such as this one. They were fun for everyone and sometimes – even now – Burundian officers (who had come to these events) will recognize me, and we chit-chat. In fact that just happened again, last weekend, in the village cabaret
Armored troop transports (above) were a common sight in the city for a few years. In going up to the camps in which rebels who had left ‘rebel-hood’ and wanted to repatriate were located. I would join a convoy of these vehicles – effective against mines and shooting, but very uncomfortable.
South African troops would also have ‘fun days’ on our beach from time to time (above).
Security now is quite ok, so that both Burundians and visitors can enjoy this lovely country.
Please see the following blog, for more on the lake and the Hotel Club du Lac, today:
Post dated 22 August 2013