A crisis lasting more than one year in Burundi has seen violence and alarming human right violations across the country. Some estimate that over 800 people have been killed, and more than a quarter of a million have fled the country.
In a conflict that has torn communities apart and destroyed social relations, building trust among young people is crucial for Burundi’s future. Action for Peace and Development (APD), a youth group which engages young Burundians to draw them away from violence, is one organisation doing just that.
At the end of May, APD organised a football match at a local school in a northern district of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. The match involved youth from different political parties and civil society organisations from all the major districts. Bringing them together through sport helped to renew relationships that have been damaged since the crisis broke out in April 2015.
According to the young players and participants benefiting from the campaign, the football field was chosen as a ‘neutral’ area due to several factors, including the safety of those attending. They testified that the place was a good choice for all young people from each region and district of the town, considering their political as well as ethnic diversity.
The match was an important moment of celebration in what has been an otherwise tumultuous year. A young leader of the local Youth Radio (Radio Colombe FM) was there to entertain the crowd. After the game, a questions and answers session on issues such as peace, reconciliation, democracy and general news followed.
The main organiser of the Youth Mobilisation Campaign in the northern part of Bujumbura said it is important to remember that the socio-political crisis currently affecting the country has touched many different neighbourhoods in Bujumbura: “It is because of this bad time we are going through in Bujumbura that reconciliation activities like the one of today are organised,” he said. He commented that for the moment it is sad to walk through neighborhoods and see that some cultural centers have been damaged.
In one zone known as Ngagara, the Culture Centre has closed. Similarly the Youth Centre in the zone of Kamenge that previously organised training , sports and other youth activities, has also closed. The ‘Cité des Jeunes Don Bosco’ which brings young peope together, is not running in the same way as before violence broke out. In Ntahangwa, many young people are unemployed.
After more than a year of political crisis, Burundi’s economy is extremely fragile, a huge challenge for one of the world’s poorest countries. Small businesses are struggling and there are many vacant market stalls in suburban areas. Many shops have closed completely.
“We fear for their future because when someone is unoccupied, it’s easy to get involved in bad actions. The state has to find them work, group them in associations and cooperative productions, supervise them and grant microcredit or they will be in danger,” suggested one wise man from the Gasenyi district.
One spectator watching the match did not hide his anger as he told his friends: “As of now, I live in the area Ngagara but I can’t go to shops in Kinama and even the ones at Kamenge. Since the crisis started, I fear for my physical safety.”
“So if this mobilisation campaign for peace, reconciliation and solidarity among the young people can positively change my situation, I encourage the local associations and representatives of universities to work together closely. There is a long way to go for me,” he concludes.
There is still a long way to go for Burundi. Outbreaks of violence are a daily occurrence, and people are still fleeing into neighbouring countries. Peace is a fragile process, it takes time and dedication. Local organisations like APD are boosting their efforts to rebuild communities after waves of violence. Beginning with Burundi’s youth is a crucial place to start.