Jeanvierre Nibafasha certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of a former rebel. She is highly educated, a middle-aged lawyer working in Bujumbura. But she is able to offer me a different perspective on the war; rather than fighting in the bush, between 1994 and 2004 she helped the rebels by passing them information that she was able to acquire through her privileged position as a student and then lawyer in Bujumbura. She is reticent on how she acquired this information, attributing it to ‘smart conversation’ – but tells me that the work was dangerous; had she been caught she would have been treated as a member of the rebels and liable to imprisonment, torture or execution. But she did it because she saw justice in the campaign.
Since the war, reactions to what she did have been mixed; some people called her a killer, while others congratulated her. But she has not faced significant problems, especially as she protected people – she is insistent that the information she passed related in the main to proposed attacks on civilians. But she felt like a former combatant, and felt that her skills could help CEDAC’s mission to build a better Burundi, so she joined the organisation and is now the Executive Secretary of its women’s programme. She uses this position to help other women ex-combatants, many of whom suffered in the field, and are in vulnerable positions; they may have been rejected by their husbands, or their husbands may have been killed, and their children may be in an awkward position, particularly those born in the bush, whose fathers may not be identifiable. Their problems are exacerbated by widespread illiteracy among women, making it difficult for them to access and understand their rights.
CEDAC can help these women through advice, legal and otherwise, and assistance in claiming their rights. They are helping women understand how to take themselves through life without their husbands, by forming support groups of women. Through this, they help them develop means of supporting themselves without turning to prostitution, something that is common among ex-combatant women, and is linked with rising AIDS infection rates, particularly in the cities*. She says that this work appeals to both sides of her character; her lawyer’s wish to promote justice, and her wish to support other women. Asked about her hope for the future, she says that she hopes that women ex-combatants can live like others, with the ex-combatant spirit extinguished, and expresses her belief that CEDAC can make a huge contribution to peace, showing that it is possible to make a difference with neither money nor power; nothing except a vision of peace.
* The wife of a friend works on the World Bank’s AIDS programme in Burundi, and tells me that current infection rates are around 2.5% in the country, and 9% in Bujumbura, but particularly the latter figure is rising fast.
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jul 9th, 2009