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Crisis in Burundi likely to deepen, says Bishop of Durham following visit

Posted on: June 18, 2015 9:34 AM
Provincial Synod 2014
Photo Credit: Anglican Church of Burundi

By ACNS staff

Leaders of the Anglican Church of Burundi are providing calm and stability despite a climate of fear and rumour-mongering in the country, says the Bishop of Durham following a recent visit.

“’Burundi, a land of 1000 hills is now a land of 1000 rumours’, I was told,” says the Rt Revd Paul Butler of his 9-11 June visit to Burundi’s Nyakabiga, Cibitoke, Ngagara  and Mutanga districts in Bujumbura, the capital city. “The two most common words I heard were ‘fear’ and ‘rumours’.”

Bishop Butler visited Burundi at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to express support and solidarity and experience the situation on the ground first-hand.

During the visit, arranged by Archbishop of Burundi Bernard Ntahoturi, and Provincial Secretary Canon Seth Ndayirukiye, Bishop Butler met with the two church leaders, the Anglican House of Bishops, representatives of Mother’s Union, Christian Aid, Oxfam and other organisations, as well as local pastors and members of the community.

People are afraid of what the future might bring and of violence and intimidation, especially from heavily-armed youth militia and the police and army, the bishop reports. There is “fear of a return to civil war and ethnic conflict. And fear that the world will simply ignore the people’s plight.”

International media have highlighted the movement of up to 150,000 refugees into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania but the biggest movement of people is internally within the country, away from the capital of Bujumbura to Matana, Muyinga, Ngozi and Gitega districts, Bishop Butler notes.

The picture across the country varies from region to region. The situation in Bujumbura is tense. Political assassinations have taken place and many opposition leaders have fled or are in hiding. Rumours everywhere are creating fear, the bishop heard.

Some areas such as Makamba in the south have seen whole communities leave for safety in Tanzania. In the north in Ngozi life goes on largely as normal but in the east in Gitega many households are now home to up to four times as many people as normally. In Nyakabiga, Bujumbura 75 per cent of the church congregation have fled.

“Churches are doing what they can to help with food and other support and there is hope and the willingness to help friends and family,” says Bishop Butler. Each parish in Bujumbura has established a 24/7 prayer rota. This they do in order to keep on exploring ways of remaining obedient to the unchanging demands of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by being effectively present in the struggles of peoples’ lives.

Echoing earlier reports by the Anglican Alliance, the bishop notes the need for support for those sheltering in homes and internally within Burundi. “It will not be long before the homes these people stay in cannot cope.”

A growing fear is fear of lack of food. Rising prices are causing concern, as is the fact that crops are not being harvested due to the displacement of people. This situation will become dire if people are not able to cultivate crops in the valleys during the dry period now or during the planting season in September.

At present the troubles are not seen as ethnically-based but there is fear that this could change, says the bishop. Many are concerned about the international community’s political will to intervene rapidly if the situation deteriorates along ethnic lines, though leaders say they “pray and hope that the nation of Burundi will not fall to this temptation”.

“Burundi is so small, if ethnic violence erupted, genocide would not take 100 days as in Rwanda. Once it started it would be too late for the international community to intervene,” Bishop Butler was told.

Bishop Butler underlined the “exceptional” witness of the clergy: “They have not run. The leadership is calm and wise.” They are calling for dialogue and a peaceful way forward for the good of the population of Burundi and the security of the region.

Archbishop Ntahoturi requested that the Anglican Communion, together with the worldwide church, continue to pray for the people of Burundi and support responses to the growing humanitarian needs.

Share prayers for Burundi on the prayer wall of the Anglican Communion website.