Laura Gordon

Laura Gordon (Survivor Corps in Burundi): Laura worked as an English teacher in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002 and Thailand in 2003. In 2006 she graduated from the University of Oxford with a 1st Class degree in Modern History. After graduating, Laura worked in Uganda as a research intern for the Uganda Human Rights Commission. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing her master’s degree in International Affairs at The Graduate Institute, Geneva. After her fellowship, Laura wrote: “I'm more comfortable in my skin now, and after a couple of years of wondering where I belong, I'm now sure that it's overseas in the development world. I love Burundi and I'm desperate to go back.”

A Sour Note

14 Jul

Over the weekend I had two experiences that got me down a bit about this country. The first was pretty standard – some guy trying to pickpocket me, ineptly as it turned out. But it was a bit scary just because the distraction attempt consisted of another guy grabbing both my arms and shaking me.

The second made me think more. I was waiting for someone in a Bujumbura hotel, and the receptionist was asking what I was doing, so I explained about Survivor Corps and the work I’ve been doing with CEDAC. His reaction was so violent that had it not been 9am in a Protestant hostel I would have assumed that he was drunk. Grabbing me by the arm and spitting as he spoke, he shouted that CEDAC only helped the rebels, and that all the rebels were criminals who should be thrown out of Burundi and tried by the ICC, and that he was angered that people like me came to the country to help criminals rather than helping ordinary Burundians (presumably meaning him). Trying to strike a reasonable note, I pointed out that I am working with a number of people who were children when they committed these crimes, and that under Burundian law they therefore couldn’t be held liable. Even angrier, he reiterated that the country would never be peaceful until it had been cleansed of these rebel criminals. Given the way he referred repeatedly to ‘rebel crimes’ and not crimes committed by the army, I suspect that there was an ethnic element, and that he was really talking about Hutu criminals.

This incident really shocked me; it was the first time that any Burundian had said anything other than we need to reconcile, we need peace, and let’s have peaceful elections. They are often critical of the government and express concern about the elections – especially as there are fears that the government will attempt to rig it. But so far no-one has expressed ethnic hate in the present tense, or a desire for violence. At some level he may have a point – it does seem unfair to focus on helping former soldiers rather than the civilians who suffered so much – but through my work with CEDAC I have come into contact with several people who would probably meet this man’s definition of ‘victims’ who have benefitted from their programmes and, in any case, the narratives of people like Arcade show that dividing people into ‘victims’ and ‘evil perpetrators who should be tried in the Hague’ just doesn’t work. Plus, in my opinion, the best way to help the population of Burundi as a whole is to prevent the conflict from restarting – which means preventing the rebels going back to war, which means giving them options – however much it may stick in the throat I hope that this man is an exception – but I can’t help wondering if, under the surface, many other people feel the same way. I think of the young people in Kinaba, who turned away from hate to help rebuild their country, and I realise that what this incident shows more than anything else is the need to continue working for reconciliation.

Pendent le weekend, j’ai eu deux expériences qui m’ont déprimé un peu. Le premier était normale – quelqu’un a essayé de me voler à la tire – mais il a besoin de plus pratiquer, parce qu’il l’a fait très mal ! Mais il m’a fait un peu peur juste parce que la stratégie de distraction était de me prendre par les bras et me toper.

Le deuxième m’a fait penser. J’étais en train d’attendre quelqu’un à un hôtel à Bujumbura, et le réceptionniste m’a demandé qu’est-ce que je fais en Burundi. Je l’ai expliqué le travail de Survivor Corps et le travail que j’ai fait avec CEDAC – et sa réaction était si violent que, sans le fait que nous étions dans une auberge Protestante à 9h du matin, je l’aurais pris pour être sou. Il m’a pris par le bras, et crié que CEDAC aide seulement les rebelles, et tous les rebelles sont les criminelles qui doivent être jetés du Burundi et jugé au CPI – et qu’il était fâché que les gens comme moi viennent au Burundi pour aider les criminelles, en place d’aider les Burundais ordinaires (traduction : comme lui !). J’essayais d’être calme et raisonnable, donc j’ai noté que je travaille avec beaucoup des gens qui ont joint les rebelles comme enfants et, selon la loi Burundais, ils ne sont pas passible. Pas de chance ; encore plus fâché, il a répété que le pays ne saurait jamais la paix avant d’être nettoyé de ces criminelles. Comme il a parlé du ‘crimes rebelles’ – et pas les crimes des forces armées Burundais – je suspecte qu’il y a un message ethnique – pas les criminelles rebelles, mais les criminelles Hutus.

Cet incident m’a beaucoup surpris ; c’était la première fois qu’un Burundais a divergé du narrative nationale de « nous devons nous réconcilier, avoir la paix, et avoir les élections paisibles » Ils critiquent souvent le gouvernement, et sont inquiétés des élections – surtout parce qu’ils ont peur que le gouvernement va essayer de tricher. Mais cet homme est le premier d’exprimer la haine ethnique dans le présent, ou de dire que le pays a besoin de plus de violence. A un niveau il a peut-être raison – ce n’est pas juste de concentrer sur les anciens combattants en place des civiles qui ont souffert dans la guerre. Mais mon travaille avec CEDAC et les autres partenaires du Survivor Corps en Burundi j’ai eu contacte avec plusieurs gens qui peut être considéré comme les ‘victimes’, qui participent dans leurs programmes – et, de plus, les histoires des survivants comme Arcade montre qu’il n’existe pas une vrai distinction entre les ‘victimes’ et les ‘criminelles malignes qui doivent être comparu devant le CPI’. Et, de plus, je crois que le meilleur moyen d’aider tous les Burundais est d’empêcher un retour au conflit – et si on veut faire ça, on doit donner les options aux anciens combattants. J’espère que cet homme est une exception – mais je dois me demander si, sous le surface, il y a plusieurs gens qui pensent dans la même manière. Je pense des jeunes avec qui j’ai parlé a Kinaba – qui ont rejeté la haine pour reconstruire leur pays, et je réalise l’importance de continuer de travailler pour le réconciliation.

Posted By Laura Gordon

Posted Jul 14th, 2009

1 Comment

  • Elaine Gordon

    July 16, 2009


    I can sense your shock. Both incidents must have been disturbing, but I’m only surprised that you haven’t encountered such bigotry before. I have always been amazed and admired the way the victims in Rwanda for example seem to be able to forgive those who committed such horrors against them and their families, all in the name of a better future for themselves and their country. But you have to and that’s why the work you, and CEDAC, are doing is so important.

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