Guy Des Aulniers' testimony upon returning from a mission to Burundi

October 14, 2011

Pacifique is part of the new wave of civil society leaders in Burundi. He is the president of the largest network of organizations in the country and the executive secretary of the Civil Society Coalition for the Monitoring of Elections—COSOME. Before I left, we shared a meal with Jean-Marie Vianney, a human rights activist recently appointed to the National Independent Human Rights Commission—CNIDH. The old generation and the new. Pacifique is a charismatic figure who defends his positions not only with immense passion but also with great attention to detail. To my great surprise, I see him arrive accompanied by an armed guard. An obligation for security reasons, he tells us. He notifies us that he cannot stay long because he received a call informing him that it would be better if he went home early...

Joseph and Macaire are the leaders of the coffee-growers' movement. They pushed back our meeting so they could hold an urgent press conference to respond to a program aired earlier by the state broadcaster. They wanted to set the record straight: the farmers are in favour of the privatization of the coffee industry, but not according to the terms being imposed by the World Bank. The coffee growers must be heard and listened to.

I met these people, these friends, during my last visit to Burundi—one week after the massacre of Gatumba, located near the capital, which resulted in 36 dead, a tragedy that recalled the horrors of the civil war. The country has nevertheless made significant strides in recent years: the army is now an institution that plays its republican role, ethnicity is no longer the sole prism of analysis, the CNIDH that was set up can depend on recognized human rights activists, civil society is playing its democratic role, etc. But extreme poverty and bad governance existing in such a fragile context make one fear for the worst. To those conditions must now be added the significant drop in international aid to both the government and civil society in Burundi. Nevertheless, people like Pacifique, Joseph and Macaire still need us.