Monday, 31 March 2008

We Never Thought It Could Happen To Us

Zlatko reads the daily incident report from the UN, reading about Bubanza province where we’re supposed to be travelling tomorrow. He’s been waiting for the UN to promise at least one open-top pickup truck full of police to, at the least, make any armed bandits think twice before attacking us. So far, they haven’t agreed, so his project in Bubanza has been delayed.
He reads down the list of attacks.
“8pm. This one’s in Bubanza. A group of armed bandits broke into a family home, throwing a grenade and killing three members. 6am, armed bandits stop a bus on the road and rob the occupants of mobile phones and wallets.”

I continue reading down the list over his shoulder. One family was attacked and killed, in another grenade attack, because the bandits suspected a member of the family of “witchcraft”. The violence seems completely unpredictable, and illogical.

Zlatko cross-checks each report with a map of Bubanza province, to see how close each attack is to his team’s proposed route and area of operations.

The violence is unpredictable, but one thing remains consistent. Even after the horrors of genocide that this country has been through, even after the sickening associations with the names “Hutu” and “Tutsi” that make me cringe to hear them, the division remains. People still refer to one or the other. I remember David Niyonzima writing “Unlocking the Horns” about reconciliation in Burundi, when he said that before Belgian colonisation, no one here knew what it meant to be Hutu or Tutsi.

Last night, Zlatko and I were discussing the war in Bosnia again (I still have a lot to learn about it). He explained that when the war started and reports would come in that the Serbs had attacked here, or the Croats had attacked there, him and his friends would listen in confusion. He comes from Tusla, a town famously well integrated between Serbs, Croats and Muslim. The town’s mayor was even nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts in keeping his community together during the worst violence. But when they heard the news during the day, Zlatko and his friends would meet later that night in a bar to ask each other,
“’What are you? Are you a Serb?’ Are you a Croat?” We didn’t know,” he explains to me, “We had no idea what it meant to be a Serb or a Croat or even Muslim. Today, when I think about it, maybe 95 percent of my friend in Tusla are Muslims, but I didn’t even think about it at the time. I didn’t even know what it meant! And my friend would go ask his parents, and he would come back the next day saying ‘Well, my parents told me that we’re Serbs.’ If we heard on the radio that the Serbs had just attacked somewhere, he would be embarrassed. If you were in a mixed marriage - and my wife is from a mixed marriage but it didn’t mean anything before – suddenly your wife’s family would look at you suspiciously. We never thought it could happen to us. Especially in Tusla. We never believed it could happen, but it happened.”

I thought about this today, as Alain was explaining to me the news that morning. The President, a Hutu, had ordered the demobilisation of a number of army officers, all Tutsi. The President being a Hutu, people saw it as an attempt to either rebalance the army (if you’re a Hutu) or imbalance the army (if you’re a Tutsi). For years, the army has been dominated by Tutsis. After all, the 1993 coup - and the subsequent vengeful killing of Hutus by the army and their proxies - was made possible because of the Tutsi control over the army. The Vice President, a Tutsi, disagreed with the President’s decree, but here it looks like that doesn’t count for much.

At the same time, FNL leaders – Hutus - are in Tanzanian preparing to meet with the government – dominated by a Hutu party - to finalise a peace deal. Today, they’re still waiting for the government to guarantee them immunity from arrest and prosecution before they set foot in Burundian soil.

Over in Zimbabwe, “the people have won” they said.

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