In the two months I have been in Burundi, I’ve got to know Eric pretty well. Perhaps the most important point to make, is that speaking to Eric, you wouldn’t ever guess that he had ever been a former combatant. Well dressed, eloquent in French and able to communicate effectively in English, he is conspicuously intelligent. You don’t need to know him well, to see that he is highly motivated, having put himself through university at the same time as founding and running an organisation that represents 25,000 former combatants (and counting).
Survivor Corps put me under significant pressure to profile Eric as the first thing I did. But I’m glad I didn’t, because at the time I hadn’t had the opportunity to get to know him, and there are questions – about the war, his motivations for joining – that I can’t ask a friend. But through watching and listening, I’ve started to see the other side to Eric. When we went to the interior and he pointed out the hills in which he fought as a rebel; when we meet General Joseph Nkrunziza, the head of the Army’s former combatants unit, he refers to him as ‘my general’; when we look at a box of grenades and magazines ready to be handed in and he picks one up and criticises the rust before replacing it. These throwaway lines and gestures give a window into Eric’s past, and a key to understanding who he is.
Eric was only with the rebels for a short time but, he says, he saw a lot. He left early and voluntarily, returned to school and then university. The idea to found CEDAC came to him gradually, as he watched the first steps towards peace; talking with former combatants, he had a vision of harnessing the energy used to destroy the country to rebuild it. Since then, the organisation has grown to become the largest former combatants’ umbrella organisation in the country, organising peer support groups for former combatants and victims of war, micro-projects (some funded by donors, some funded as mutual support and self-help projects). They support training for their members, including supporting a training centre for young people in Bujumbura – Eric is considering starting similar centres elsewhere in the country, if funding can be found. And they have started a programme to use their members to sensitise their communities about the importance of peaceful elections.
Eric is working very closely with Pierre Claver in setting up Survivor Corps’ programme in the country. Here is a clip of him talking about what is has meant for him and for CEDAC:
If you want to read more about CEDAC, you can visit my description of their work here, their website here, and Eric’s blog here – he’s promised to post news and updates at least once a week, so check back to see what he has to say!
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jul 31st, 2009