Fragile Island of Peace
How an African Nation Moved Beyond Violence
IT BEGAN WITH AN EXPERIMENT. Could soldiers from warring ethnic factions in Burundi—who had been killing each other and civilians for a decade—come together in one room and talk—and listen—to each other? Could trust ever be built? Few of those who walked into that room in 2003 expected anything good to come out of it. One told his wife that he might not come home alive. Yet this group of Hutus and Tutsis agreed to leave their guns outside, sit in a circle—and literally face their enemies.
The signing of the treaty in Arusha was the official end to the war, but the peace did not hold. It was the transformative work these soldiers did together that led to the actual end of the civil war—and the beginning of a new cultural paradigm. Those same warring militiamen now settle their disputes in the Burundian parliament or work side-by-side in the national army. Some have become peace trainers themselves, social activists, or entrepreneurs working to develop economic opportunities. Others became teachers in the country’s elementary and high schools, and show children how to resolve differences without hurting each other. In short, the peacebuilding work is still going on, as Burundians have come together for the first time to fight an even more formidable common enemy: Burundi’s grinding poverty, and to find new, less violent ways to deal with differences..
This is the story of cultural transformation told through the personal experiences of those who have lived through it and are still working as passionate peacekeepers. They are the signs of hope for the rest of us.
Spectrum Media, in collaboration with the Wilson Center's Africa Program, brings you Fragile Island of Peace, which will focus on storytellers affected by and engaged in different aspects of this massive change, including: a former rebel soldier (who is now the Burundian president), a peace trainer/educator, a political/social activist, and a young businessman who took over care of his four-year old brother when his father disappeared during the war.
No one else has told this unlikely story on film, or made clear its implications for the future of world peace.