Dear Michelle Bachelet and members of the UN Women Executive Board,
I am so thankful for your new post as the Executive Director of UN Women. I have no doubt that you will use your experience and knowledge as a leader and a woman with clear vision to address women’s issues. It is therefore an honor and a privilege to be able to present to you the crucial and urgent problems my country Burundi is facing.
I thought about addressing the many problems related to gender inequality in Burundi, but how can one talk about women’s rights in a country on the brink of an abyss? How can one talk about progress when even surviving is not assured? How can one talk about women’s rights when the country hasn’t even been able to bury its deceased citizens? It is a fact that the virus of animosity between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi (and Rwanda) has been the cause of many bloody wars. Amazingly, to this day, the names and tombs of the victims from 1965, 1972, 1988, 1991, 1993 to this day are still unknown. When it comes to their number, researchers give only an estimate, as if each life did not matter and was not precious.
Consequently, among both ethnic groups are angry and resentful people, whose loved ones have been killed, their bodies thrown who knows where, and who have never heard a word of apology, neither from the government, nor from the former killers. Who have never had an opportunity to bury their loved ones with dignity. In doing so, we have violated the very core of our tradition of respecting deceased members of our family, of respecting our ancestors. That has considerably weakened the national cohesion. The best way of apologizing to those whose loved ones have been killed is building a memorial for the departed ones, regardless their ethnic belongings.
So far, many other ways of rebuilding the nation have been tried, such as the share of power, the introduction of democracy, the intervention of the international community, and more. However, all the above ways haven’t been able to reestablish the national cohesion and trust between Burundians that is so indispensable for Burundi to survive as a nation. Why? Because all above solutions are just superficial band aids applied on deeply infected wounds. The truth is that the blood from innocent Burundians was shed in the name of division, fear, and ignorance, and that their loved ones need to hear a word of apology.
Besides, if no monument is built, will our future generation know how dangerous and ominous ethnic division could be? Would they want to bury us while we were unable to bury our parents, siblings, children, and colleagues? Since we expect to be buried with dignity, we must bury with dignity, as any dignified human being would do. What will we answer to our kids when they ask us about our loved ones’ tombs? What will we answer to them when they ask us about the number of the victims of all the ethnic wars we launched against each other? Haven’t they the right to know? Do we want to write our history, or others to do it when we will be gone?
I have attempted many times to address the crucial issue of building a memorial for war victims as the best way to reconcile the Burundians, but it became clear to me that the leaders lacked the courage. An influential dignitary from the actual government I talked to agreed with me that building a memorial was a moral obligation. But later on when I tried to follow up, I was told that for the time being it was an impossible request as it would make some people angry. Few months later, a fake memorial was built in Gitega, the center of the country, but making official the number of dead people and writing their names is still taboo. Only pictures of weapons used to exterminate each other are seen at the memorial. That was another band aid applied to the wound.
Recently, another band aid was applied to the infected wound by distributing an insignificant sum of money of about $300.00 to each spouse or child whose parents/spouses died in any ethnic war while civil servants. The other band aid that is still standing was applied by former President Buyoya, when he built a monument for unity. Now is the time to take off the band aids and see our wounds as they are: ugly, infected and infectious before it becomes too late. We must address the real emotional issues that have caused a cold war between its two group ethnic groups, by engaging in real conversation and by building a memorial for deceased people. To this day many members of both groups still think that killing people from the other ethnic group is the right way to defend their ethnic groups and that they would do it again if given opportunities. In other words, killing each other is not over. That is why developing the country by tackling its real issues is not a priority. We are still in the confrontation mood.
Consequently, the very Burundi foundations as a nation are shaky: Isn’t Burundi among the 5 poorest countries in the whole world, if not the poorest? Doesn’t Burundi come at the bottom of the list when it comes to the world’s population well-being level classified by country? Isn’t true that the Burundi government has hard time affording to pay salaries to civil servants? Isn’t the public school system already non functional and marked by many interruptions due to strikes from unhappy teachers and students? Weren’t Burundians in America unable to celebrate the New Year 2011 together, just because they are from different ethnic groups? Weren’t BANA and UBAKA, the 2 main nonprofit Burundian organizations in North America composed of the very elite people the country could count on, unable to work together, because one is mainly for Tutsis, and the other one is for Hutus? What else is left to admit that the country is extremely sick?
If we continue to ignore the distressing social and economic signals, the catastrophe could be in the near future. So, let’s address Burundi cohesion issues by not shying away from the truth before the territory becomes another Somalia. Before the country becomes another safe haven for terrorists. When it becomes too late and the cup overflows, women and children are going to be the ones suffering the most. It has been hard for the international community to reinstall few thousands of refugees. It will be even harder to relocate and accommodate 9 millions of Burundians once the country disintegrates completely. Let’s help Burundians to reconcile by initiating real conversations that would include women, who were barely involved in all the previous negotiations.
We have been kidding ourselves by building on wrong foundations expecting our house to stand strong. That is why everything seems to be okay for a while, until one day the walls crumble down again. In case we are serious about reconciliation, let us build a memorial for all victims of ethnic wars, regardless their ethnic origins. It will be the only and eternal testimony that we have closed that bitter chapter of Burundi life, and have opened a new one, where protecting one another is not a choice, but a survival issue. As Maya Angelou said, “If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” We cannot wait for political stability, or economic prosperity. Building a resting place for our loved ones is a priority. The debt we owe them has been past due for so long. Let’s free the blood shed of our innocent children, siblings, fathers and mothers to nourish and heal our land. Let’s join hands and work together to save Burundi from collapsing, thus establishing better conditions for Burundi women and children.
I thank you in advance dear Michelle Bachelet for doing whatever you can to make my voice be heard.
Vera Nicimpaye Teacher/Writer
As the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women officially begins its work this month, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What is YOUR vision and recommendation for UN Women? We invite you to raise your voice by writing a letter to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet outlining your recommendation for how this new UN agency can truly affect change on the ground to promote gender equality and uphold the rights and needs of women both on a local and global scale. Learn more: http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire/programs/international-violence-agai...
Take action! This post was submitted in response to UN Women: Visions and Recommendations.