(Expérience d’une situation de conflit au Burundi, 2. Expérience en tant qu’artiste)
05 / 1999
In February and March 1994, when the bloody conflict raged in certain districts of the capital, Bujumbura, all cultural activities ceased and organized theatre troupes went underground or broke up.
I directed a theatre-ballet company called ’GEZA AHO’ which was not only the oldest (founded in 1981)but considered by the public as the best. Since the actors had not been selected on an ethnic basis but on that of individual merit, we were as mixed as could be but united.
Since we were devoted to our art, we did not want to abandon it, especially since we knew that it was at times like these that our message was most useful. Several attempts to play in theatres turned into fiascos. We thus had to find other strategies, as we understood that we were confronted by two major challenges:
- People were afraid of gathering in a closed space,
- The ethnic groups of the actors did not permit the troupe to visit ’ethnically cleansed’ districts without danger.
Starting out from the fact that we did not want to play the game of the divisionists and break up the troupe, nor did we want to stop our message, we opted for the following solution:
- We created plays related to the situation we were living in, and made physical representations in places where we were safe;
- Otherwise, we filmed the plays on video and ensured wide diffusion not only via national television but also via tours, even in ethnically purified districts where projections were given by the actors who were least in danger.
- We made sound recordings of the plays to reach a wider public via the national radio.
Thus the troupe was able to spread its message on the norms of humanitarian behaviour during the conflict:
- On women and orphans of AIDS victims,
- On youth and sexuality in view to promoting responsible parenthood,
- On women in displaced persons camps,
- On violence against women in the Burundian crisis.
N.B.: All these cassettes are available but as they were intended to educate the majority of the population, they are all in Kirundi. Since increasing numbers of the public (the listeners)thanked the troupe for its interest in the population’s problems during the conflict, the troupe, helped by an NGO (Search for Common Ground)started a radio series on pacific coexistence called ’UMUBANYI NI WE MURYANGO (’Neighbours start with the family’), to show people that conflicts occur wherever there are men, but that a solution can be found for any conflict provided that those concerned really make an effort to sit down together and seek one.
The series was broadcast in episodes of twenty minutes starting at 8 p.m., from Monday to Friday. A survey carried out in 1998 by independent foreign journalists showed that 60% of the Burundian population listened to the program, which took second place after the news. This is a record insofar as many listeners do not have radio sets and have to visit their neighbours to hear it.
I left Burundi just after finishing writing two hundred episodes, ensuring diffusion until 10th July 1999.
One of the strategies contributing to the success of this challenge deserves special mention. The fact that the actors and I tried to stay neutral in the conflict in terms of our actions. Our dialogues deal with all the misunderstandings and problems, even those considered as taboo. This required several sacrifices. I myself as the author of the series had to give up my seat in parliament to avoid certain of my characters depicting, for example, politicians from being seen from a partisan angle. When one wants to invest oneself, one must go all the way. At present, the GEZA AHO theatre-ballet troupe is the only one from before 1993 still in existence and continuing to express its message. There has been no lack of problems but we have tried to adapt!
This text is a contribution to the workshop on ’women and peace’ organized by the Yin Yang (masculine-feminine)workshop of the Alliance for a responsible and united world shortly before the Hague international Conference on Peace (may 1999). Original sheet in French in this data base.