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News, 2/19/2007

Foreign Minister of Burundi wants everybody to participate in the politics

The Finnish-speaking Foreign Minister of Burundi Antoinette Batumubwira says that to the outside world she represents the new Burundi, a country finally ready for peace. The time is right for reconciliation and reconstruction, Batumubwira believes.

Antoinette Batumubwira lived in Finland until two years ago.Batumubwira is touring Europe in order to feel the ground for forming of new partnerships. There has been very little cooperation between Finland and Burundi, but the minister knows Helsinki like the back of her hand: only two years ago the family of Batumubwira were living as refugees at Tikkurila of Vantaa.

"I've been away from Finland only for a short while. When I now came here, everything seemed exactly the same. I was immediately able to orientate myself in the city."

Batumubwira's transformation from a refugee into a minister has been amazingly fast. After having spent 11 years in exile in Finland and South Africa, she returned to her home country in 2005. After a few months, she was invited to join the government. It was not such a rare happening, she assures.

"For many other people, the things happened even faster than that. Some were invited as ministers even before they had returned to Burundi."

Fragile peace needs to be stabilised

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja met his colleague Antoinette Batumubwira in Helsinki on Friday.Burundi has been in conflict ever since the country gained independence in 1961. The clashes between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority escalated into a civil war in the mid-1990s. The peace process that has lasted about six years finally seems to be bearing fruit.

"We have reached a point where the country is in peace, and the opportunities for development are good. Now we need to stabilise the situation," Batumubwira describes. "Peace will not last long if people don't see the changes it brings in their everyday lives. We have to create jobs, and win the trust of particularly the young people."

The current government of Burundi is the first one since the end of the civil war. The beginning of the government term has been challenging: rumours of coup d'état have been circulating the country, demobilisation of the rebel forces has been slow, and authorities have been accused of harsh measures. The national economy is totally dependent on foreign assistance. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Burundi refugees are living in Tanzania, waiting for a chance to return to their home country.

Batumubwira is of the opinion that the crises have been a part of a necessary adjustment process, during which the government and the people who have experienced very hard times have been getting used to each other. The worst times are behind us now, she believes.

"We want to organise our affairs so that the refugees would be able to return to their homes whenever they want to. That requires a lot of resources. If they return home empty-handed and find strange people living on their former home grounds, the conflict may erupt again."

Exclusion is the enemy of democracy

The flag of BurundiBatumubwira's experiences from the civil war, living in exile and being a member of a reconstruction government have taught her quite a lot of how conflicts emerge and how they could be prevented. What then would be the minister's own recipe for peacebuilding?

"Exclusion of people – whether based on religion, ethnicity, social class or sex – is always a sure starting point for a civil war. In Burundi, every government since independence has suffered from this disease," Batumubwira explains. "That is why, in Burundi, democracy means participation. If everybody is not involved, all our good intentions mean nothing at all."

If everything goes as planned, the first truth and reconciliation commission of Burundi will start its operation during this year. In Batumubwira's opinion the past crimes have to be investigated without delay or the peace process is left lame.

"Everyone has his own impression of what has happened in the past. I believe that now we are ready to start talking about it," Batumubwira ponders. "We have to explore how we arrived at a situation where we started murdering each other."

Foreign Minister of Burundi Antoinette Batumubwira to visit Finland

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Updated 2/19/2007

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