Twice a year we bring to London a peacebuilder from a conflict zone, so that people here can learn from them. Our latest visitor was Landry Ninteretse from Burundi.
His tiny country in Central Africa has suffered the same kind of genocidal violence as its neighbour Rwanda. Some 300,000 people were killed in fighting between Hutus and Tutsis, from 1993 to 2005. A fragile peace has lasted since then, but elections in 2015 could be a trigger for tensions to erupt again.
Landry is the founder of Action for Peace and Development. This charity persuades young people in Burundi to avoid joining political gangs or militias, and trains them to create peaceful civil institutions. Young people are crucial to peace in Burundi, where 65% of the population are under 20 years old. As in many conflict-affected countries, the young are highly vulnerable to militia recruitment and political manipulation, due to their lack of prospects and education.
In November Landry spent a week here in the UK. His main purpose was to share his experiences with young Londoners in Newham, who are learning through our Truce 20/20 project to manage conflicts in their schools, streets and homes. He led a lively evening session with the Trucers, in what is one of Britain’s poorest districts. You can read an account by one of them here.
But Landry’s visit was also an opportunity to share insights with journalists and policy-makers here. A highlight of his trip was a meeting at the House of Lords with Lord Jack McConnell, a staunch supporter of Peace Direct. Jack has fundraised for Landry’s organisation, and last summer visited their headquarters in Bujumbura. Now he treated Landry to a personal tour of the historic buildings of Parliament, including stepping inside the chamber of the Lords itself – and then sat him down for an hour’s serious discussion of the prospects for peace in Burundi.
Next day Landry was back in Westminster, to meet analysts and East Africa experts at the Foreign Office. There was much discussion of the possibilities for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Burundi, modelled on the one in South Africa which did so much to lay the past to rest. Landry also described the new peacebuilding network that he has helped to set up across his country, which came out of Peace Direct’s last Peace Exchange conference there.
Then it was off to the new building of the BBC, a high-tech hive of journalists built around a seven-storey glass atrium and buzzing with media energy. Here he was interviewed for the Africa section of the BBC World Service. Initially we’d booked him onto the Great Lakes channel, but they were so impressed that they persuaded the Francophone channel to record him on the spur of the moment. Afterwards Landry turned to me and said – “I have listened to that programme all my life, and now I am on it!”
In between the political stuff, Landry found time to meet with donors and supporters of his organisation, and even made a quick dash to Scotland to meet supporters there. Disappointingly, he claimed to have experienced snow once before, in Copenhagen. But he had this to say to those he met while here:
My gratitude also goes to all Peace Direct supporters in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh for their continuous and generous offers to advance the cause of local peacebuilding.
This visit is typical of what we arrange when peacebuilders come over. It’s part of our belief that those in the West can learn from, and even be led, by those who live in the conflict-affected countries. And it allows to reach those who can assist, with influence or funds.
We look forward to our next visit, in the spring. Watch this space to find out who it will be.