For about 8 months there has been no shooting where we are near the Congo border. After over 10 years of fighting, during which time I have been based here, the calm has settled comfortably on nearly everyone, to the point that at times it becomes difficult to recollect just how one did behave and think during those years of strife and uncertainty.
So I want to blog occasionally on the war years – what happened and about how these events have molded ways in which the country and its people – all of us – can and cannot move beyond the war years with reasonable efficiency.
Here are a few examples of the rapid changes in security that have taken place over the last several months:
1. In the village where the livestock of our Project have been kept over the past few years it was necessary to pay the FNL (Forces for National Liberation) a monthly ‘tax’ to assure the stock would not be taken. This was, from a rebel point of view, completely justifiable: how could their movement continue without funds and supplies? And wasn’t this form of arbitrary taxation preferable to having one’s livestock and other goods forcefully taken? Most thought so, and paid accordingly. So did the Project – paying the equivalent of 10 dollars monthly to assure the safety of the foundation herd of over 100 improved goats.
These tax payments have now ceased, because the FNL was finally incorporated into the Government in June. Now fully demobilized, they have been redeployed in the army or police, given training in small business start-up, or assisted to resettle on land and to farm.
2. Many of the young men in our area (which is still considered an FNL stronghold) would formerly have been supportive – if not active in the rebel effort. Now, the majority whom I know are content to find work or return to school; to start a family and to dream about a more peaceful future. I help to find work for some them – it is one of the best forms of social insurance for the future.
It is now possible to walk about or sit in the rural cabarets of the area well after dark and enjoy one’s neighbors and kin, something not possible even a few months ago.
3. No more land mines going off during the night. I had two dogs killed, and one injured by land mines set by the military beside our compound for protection. Several persons were badly injured –not rebels, but our village neighbors. As well, several hippopotamus tread on mines. They were badly injured, and so killed by the military and their meat shared around.
The hills above Bujumbura, in the picture above, were rebel strongholds throughout the fighting and villagers there were subject to attacks both by rebels, seeking supplies, as well as by the military, seeking to root out rebels. These were truly bad times. Several of my workers came from there and had continuing stories of raids and fights.
I begged the military to remove the mines, as they were causing more deaths and injuries that protection (the compound was broken into two times, in any case, by rebel groups. More on that in other blogs). Thankfully, the military complied, but then installed a ‘hidden’ position next to us during the night. Those days are over. But officers whom we knew during that period and who were helpful is seeing us safely through it sometimes come by to visit and chit-chat ; to exchange views and news.
4. Working upcountry with farmers and technical staff no longer requires security checks or ‘hands on’ military guards.
But the transition to peace is not a black-white process. Strands of unrest, of rumor, of hatred and of political intrigue remain. Thus, for example, armed guards are at time necessary when moving after dark:
In future blogs I will put up entries that I wrote during the war year; bits and pieces that were sent to groups and friends. Tomorrow‘s entry will be about the Massacre in Gatumba Refugee camp, 4 kilometers West of us, on the Congo border, in which 160 persons were murdered. It was one of the lowest points of time here.
And finally, this morning I had a worker come in to explain that he had to leave to go to the local military station because in a rowe last week with a neighbor over land boundaries, someone had thrown a granade at his house. Many – who knows how many – have several granades hidden for use in disputes such as this. Remaining strands of unrest and intreague.