Quaker Peace Roundtable ---



C/o David Zarembka, 7785 Alicia Ct., Maplewood, MO 63143, phone/fax: (314) 645-0336,

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Quakers and Peace in the Great Lakes of Africa

By David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative
Friends Peace Teams

When I begin my discussions of the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, I like to remind Americans that one of my great-grandfathers had three brothers severely wounded and another great-grandfather had three brothers killed less than seven score years ago, when the United States was involved in a great Civil War. Approximately 1.1 million people or about 3% of the then population were killed in this conflict. Sherman’s March to the Sea--a militarily unnecessary campaign--destroyed, burned, killed, and looted it way through the South; today these would be considered war crimes. Following the war there was reconstruction, share-cropping, segregation, the Klu Klux Klan, and such a lack of healing that today we are still fighting about that conflict as most recently illustrated with the controversy over flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina state house. If one has difficulty understanding the genocide in Rwanda, remember the American settlers extermination of the Native Americans.

Likewise Quakerism arose in England during a time of civil and military unrest, even chaos. The religious ferment of the times was partially due to the unsettled nature of English society. Therefore it is not surprising that those who had found the Truth would go off to convert the Sultan in Constantiople and failing to reach there, the Pope in Italy. Mary Dyer was executed in Boston and Quaker ministers roamed where they could speading the new gospel.

American Quakers are frequently surprised to find that the country with the largest number of Quakers today is in Africa. Friends United Meeting missionary arrived in western Kenya 100 years ago next summer. Today there are over 100,000 Quakers, mostly concentrated in that small area of Kenya where the first missionary founded the mission station at Kaimosi. Most of these Quakers are members of one tribe called Lulya, but in fact this "tribe" is really a body of about ten sub-tribes who speak similar languages--the nature of the sub-tribes accounts for many of the splits in the original East Africa Yearly Meeting in Kenya into the present fourteen in Kenya, one in Tanzania, and two in Uganda. While the system is a little different in Kenya, the Quakers administer about two hundred secondary schools and three hundred primary schools which are Government supported institutions. The Quakers also have two hospital, Kaimosi and Lugulu and Kenya Theological College which trains pastors. As I walked down the road in Quakerland, Kenya, with my Kenyan father-in-law, the presence of the Quakers was obvious--past a Quaker Church, a Quaker girls secondary school, a Quaker primary school where my wife’s cousin teaches, meeting the clerk of Quarterly Meeting on the road, and then the pastor of a local Friends Church.

The Quakers in Uganda are found on the other side of the border on Mount Elgon and number perhaps 3000. The Quakers in Tanzania originated mostly from Kenyan Quakers who crossed the border into northern Tanzania, east of Lake Victoria. They number perhaps 2000.

Quakers from then Kansas Yearly Meeting, now Mid-America Yearly Meeting from Evangelical Friends International, went to Burundi in 1934 and established the first Church at Kibimba, on a most spectacular hilltop with views in three directions. Fifty years later in 1984 the Friends missionaries along with all other missionaries then in Burundi were denied work permits and had to leave the country.

When I visited Burundi in January, 1999, I was told that there were 10,000 Quakers in 70 churches with 50 pastors. Recently I received an email indicting that two years later there are 13,000 Quakers. Our reaction might be that a 30% increase in two years is not possible. But members of the African Great Lakes Initiative’s Burundi Peace Team were at Kamenge Friends Church in November, 2000 where 46 new members were entered into membership—another 50 were half way through their training for membership. In Burundi only adults are counted in membership and it takes three years of training before one completes the membership process. Five new pastors, including the first woman, were welcomed at Burundi Yearly Meeting in December, 2000.

In 1993, Burundi Yearly Meeting had a theological school in Kwibuka, up-country near Gitega. This one-year course had eleven students. During the unrest in October, eight of these students, along with others at Kwibuka, were killed by the Burundi Tutsi army. Ironically two of those eight killed were Tutsi. This illustrates how much more complicated the situation is than the simplistic Hutu/Tutsi explanation given in most press reports. David Niyonzima, the General Secretary of Burundi Yearly Meeting, showed me how he hid in the pit of the auto repair garage behind the seminary building. He said his heart was pounding has loud as possible when a soldier came to the window and another asked if anyone was there. The soldier responded, "Only an old automobile!" and left.

But Burundi Yearly Meeting was not to be discouraged. In September, 1999, they started the Great Lakes School of Theology in Bujumbura with now twenty-three students from Burundi, Rwanda, and the Congo. The course is now a three year one, taught in English which is the fourth language for most of the students. The Yearly Meeting has also revived Kibimba Secondary School and Kibimba Hospital. In Gitega, Modeste Karerwa is the headmistress of the Magarama II Peace Primary School which is trying to teach peace and reconciliation to its six hundred students along with the usual government sponsored curriculum.

After the missionaries were expelled from Burundi, they went to Rwanda in 1986 and began Rwanda Yearly Meeting. Now Rwanda Yearly Meeting has about 2500 members, three secondary schools, four primary schools, and churches. While the Quaker Center in Kigali is substantial with a nicely designed church, I visited Quaker churches which were no more than plastic tarps on poles.

The unique characteristic of the Rwandan Yearly Meeting is that since the recent beginning, there has been a conscious balance in leadership positions between Hutu, Tutsi who survived the genocide, and Tutsi who returned from exile. The Church seems determined to make itself a model of reconciliation in Rwanda. Sizeli Marcellin, the clerk of Rwanda Yearly Meeting, barely survived the genocide, while his wife and all but two of his children were killed. He, a Tutsi, later married a Hutu woman, whose husband and all but one child were also killed during the fighting. They have since had a child of their own. This is promoted by Sizeli and others as a step towards reconciliation and forgiveness.

Rwandan society is still in a state of shock from the genocide. Its people are still trying to analyze and understand what happened and why it happened. Islam has made more inroads in Rwanda, one of the most "Christian" countries, by asserting that the genocide shows that Christianity has failed since it was Christians, including some church leaders, who participated in the killing of other Christians. There is a realization that converting people to Christianity is not sufficient in itself—this conversion has to have real meaning in concrete behavioral changes where loving one’s neighbor is a commandment kept by all Christians. Rwanda Yearly Meeting is a leading group in this activity of peacemaking and reconciliation.

There are also about 1000 Quakers in Congo Yearly Meeting, consisting of people living in the east of the Congo near Lake Tanganyika. This is not a missionary church, but was started in 1981 by Congolese who attended Quaker Churches in Bujumbura.

To briefly describe the history of the Great Lakes Region of Africa is more difficult than writing at length. The first important point is that the area of Rwanda, Burundi, the two Kivu provinces of the Congo, northwestern Tanzania, and much of Uganda and including parts of western Kenya along Lake Victoria is a geographical region carved by the colonials in 1886 into various slices even though they didn’t know much about the area—no European, for example, had visited Rwanda or Burundi at that time. In 1965 when I first worked with Rwandan refugees, I met elderly people who could remember when the first Europeans came to Rwanda. These two kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi were know for their military prowess and together with the very hilly nature of the terrain were able to keep Europeans and slave traders out of their territory. Ironically this is one of the reasons that Rwanda and Burundi are so heavily populated today and why people live scattered on the hillside and not in villages and towns as people do in West Africa to protect themselves from slave raids.

The colonial powers all ruled their "slices" by indirect rule, promoting their favorites over others. Divide and rule was a basic technique of this system. In Rwanda and Burundi, the Germans and then the Belgians after World War I continued the monarchy that had already been in place, but emphasizing more centralization. People were divided into Hutu and Tutsi as indicated on everyone’s identity card, and the Tutsi were given all the benefits—education, jobs, power, and positions of authority. Since everyone in these countries spoke the same language, participated in the same culture, lived intermixed and sometimes intermarried, Hutu and Tutsi cannot be considered different ethnic groups, but perhaps more like a class division. The authority was double-edged. A Tutsi, for example, would be required to produce a forced labor crew of Hutu to work on a stretch of road. He was encouraged to use the whip and, if the work was not performed as expected, he was in danger of losing his position of power.

Intermarriage had, for us, interesting rules. One could not be half Tutsi and half Hutu. If your father was a Tutsi, you were a Tutsi even if your mother was a Hutu. Likewise your father was a Hutu, you were a Hutu even if your mother was a Tutsi. This lead to incidences during the Rwandan genocide when mothers who were Hutu were asked to kill their own children who were Tutsi. Usually when they refused to do so, they were killed also as accomplices of the Tutsi.

European racism was also an important factor. During the genocide, people were instructed to throw the dead Tutsi in the river so that they could go back to Ethiopia where they came from—20,000 bodies were pulled out of the Kagera River where it empties into Lake Victoria by the Tanzanians. Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile and the Nile also rises in the Ethiopian highlands. The colonialists taught the following in their schools so that even today many Rwandans/Burundians, both Hutu and Tutsi, believe it: The Ethiopians were considered the southern most branch of the White Race. The Tutsi (although there is no piece of historical evidence that this is true) came from Ethiopia and were therefore members of the White Race and should rule over the Hutu, who were just Bantu peasants! This is the kind of mis-education that the Peace Primary School in Gitega is trying to counteract.

In Uganda, where there are many different ethnic groups, an additional major aspect of the conflicts was over religion. Protestants, Catholics, and Moslems fought for converts and power—Milton Obote, the first Ugandan president, was a Catholic, while Idi Amin was a Moslem. My former father-in-law in Kenya who is a Protestant pastor used to come home elated if they had converted someone who had been a Catholic or Moslem.

In Kenya, politics is ruled by ethnicity—the present government has a concept of "majimboism," meaning "regionalism." This means that one can only live in the area where one was born, implying that all immigrants from other parts of the country do not have a legitimate right to live in another area of the country. Since the larger tribes, including the Lulya to which most Quakers belong, have very small home areas, they have migrated to other places and could be considered only temporary residents. In 1993, in the Rift Valley, the home area of the President Daniel Arap Moi, the local inhabitants attacked those who had migrated into the area and many were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The Government, as usually happens in cases of "ethnic strife," either actively promoted the violence or at least did not take forceful action to prevent it.

Tanzania is the only country in the area which, so far, has not had civil unrest and violence. This can be attributed to a number of factors. Tanzania has many, small ethnic groups so no one group could dominate the country. Its first president, Julius Nyerere, came from a very small tribe, the Zanaki, of about 10,000 members and vigorously promoted the concept that everyone was a Tanzanian, rather than a member of an ethnic group. Swahili became the national language and almost everyone learned Swahili and so could communicate without difficulty with everyone else. Yet it is so easy for politicians to play the "ethnic card" to gather support that even in Tanzania, the situation must be considered fortunate for now, but potentially dangerous.

In addition these countries, but particularly Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania, are extremely poor. Control of government is about the only viable economic activity. Consequently those who control the government usually give power, jobs, influence, and economic opportunities to first, their family members, then those from their home area, then their ethnic group, and leaving almost everyone else out. It is a total win-lose situation so people do desperate things to become "winners."

The situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone illustrates the problem in the Great Lakes also. In Liberia, Charles Taylor, essentially a bandit, first robbed, looted, and destroyed people from his area of Liberia. His goal was to take over the whole government of Liberia where he could continue to rob and loot the whole state, under the guise of legality. After he succeeded in this, he has supported "rebels" in Sierra Leone who wish to accomplish the same goal. In these situations, those most prone to violence, those most ruthless, and those who feel that they have to copy the violent, ruthless ones are the people who come in control of the government. The scum rises to the top. Many of the violent actors, regardless of the ethnic or political ideology they purport to have, are no more than sophisticated bandits.

Quakers in these countries are sometimes the victims of the conflicts. Just recently during renewed fighting in Bujumbura, two members of Kamenge Friends Church, were killed by stray bullets. The General Secretary of Burundi Yearly Meeting, David Niyonzima, had to go into exile for over two years because he was placed on a "hit list." To be a peacemaker in these areas of conflict, which each side wants everyone to be classified as either a supporter on our side or an enemy on the other side, is dangerous in itself. There are winners during these conflicts and those who have risen to power through violence do not want to give up that power and a willingness to continue to use violence to keep it.

But area Quakers are not passive to these acts of violence and war. As I described in the March issue of the Friends Journal:

"In Eastern Congo, whenever there is a massacre, Friends build a monument. That is, they have a memorial service where everyone from all sides is invited to come and bring a stone. During the praying and singing, these rocks are placed together to form a monument for those who were killed.

"In Burundi, at up-country, out-of-the-way Masawa Friends Church, members have identified 98 vulnerable families—the elderly, women with missing husbands—and if their modest houses are destroyed during the fighting, the church community rebuilds them. I visited the house of an elderly blind man whose house has been rebuilt four times!

"In Rwanda, Kidaho Friends Church did not seem to be doing much until we went into their church office and found three-and-a-half 240-pounds bags of beans. I asked what the beans were doing there and was told that at harvest time the women bring in the beans, which are kept and given to needy people during the dry season.

"In Uganda, a small one-room Friends Church has a training trade school during the week. At night it is a homeless shelter for families whose homes and livelihood have been destroyed by mud slides on Mount Elgon."

In January, 2000, David Niyonzima and many other Quakers joined a demonstration of about 20,000 people in Bujumbura, promoting the end of the violence and the negotiating of a peace settlement for Burundi. In Rwanda, the Quakers have been appointed the lead church for peacemaking by the National Christian Council of Rwanda—an alliance of about thirty Protestant churches. They are establishing a Peace Center in downtown Kigali. The Quaker reputation of peacemaking has reached even unto Burundi and Rwanda.

The world body of Quakers has also been active in supporting the work of the Friends and other peacemakers in the Great Lakes Region. These include Friends United Meeting, Evangelical Friends International, Right Sharing of World Resources, American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker United Nations Office—New York, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Britain’s Quaker Peace and Service, Norwegian Quaker Peace and Service, Germany’s Quakerhilfe, and the Friends Peace Teams’ African Great Lakes Initiative. To this list we must also add extensive involvement by the Mennonite Central Committee in peace activities in this area, frequently working closely with the local Quakers. I am frequently asked if these different Quaker groups know what each is doing and do they cooperate with each other and even perhaps overloading the activities in the area. First the different groups cooperate quite closely in their peace activities. Moreover the need is so great that we would welcome additional resources. All our activities taken together are but drops into Lake Victoria.

Let me illustrate with the example of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)—Uganda. In 1996, three Quakers—two American and one New Zealander—gave some introductory workshops. This led to interest in the program among Ugandan Quakers. Hilary Wright, a British Quaker living in Uganda, arranged for three Ugandans, including Grace Kiconco, now the administrator of AVP-Uganda, to attend a course at Woodbrooke College, the Quaker study center in England, where they participated in all three levels of AVP training. They came back to Uganda and started facilitating AVP workshops in Kampala and near Mbale, where the Ugandan Quakers live. They were supported in this work by Quaker Peace and Service and the Mennonite Central Committee. In January, 1999, the AGLI delegation sent Bill and Rosemarie McMechan to Uganda and they co-facilitated two AVP workshops with the Ugandan facilitators. They recommended a more extensive involvement and so in February, 2000, AGLI sent a team of four international facilitators—two Americans, one British, and one South African—to co-facilitate eight AVP workshops including two in men’s prisons, one in a women’s prison, and one with former soldiers. Quaker Peace and Service and Quakerhilfe gave financial support to this project. Now AVP-Uganda has at least eight different groups doing AVP workshops with support from numerous sources. Subsequently AGLI in partnership with Rwanda Yearly Meeting sponsored twelve AVP workshops in Rwanda with three American, one British, and three Ugandan facilitators. They are in the process of organizing an AVP group and hope to facilitate AVP workshops in Rwandan prisons and elsewhere.

The African Great Lakes Initiative’s method is not just to send expatriates to the Great Lakes Region nor to fund activities in the area, but to partner with local Quakers and other peace groups, bringing both personnel and finances to a program. This reciprocal arrangement allows things to happen, but also establishes relationships between the Africans and the expatriates. For example, in the Kamenge Reconciliation and Reconstruction Project, seven foreigners—one British, one Tanzania, one Canadian, and four Americans—joined seven members of Burundi Yearly Meeting to from a Team which rebuilt the guest house/residency at Kamenge Friends Church in Bujumbura. The substantial amount of funds needed to transport the seven expatriates to Burundi was matched with funds used to purchase the materials for the building. But the Burundians did their share of the work too, because members of the Church dug the clay, made the bricks, and fired them all before the Team arrived. The bricks were still warm when they were laid. Thirty youth members of Kamenge Church also helped out and participated in some mini-nonviolence workshops. The Team also went one week up-country to Kibimba Secondary School and helped hundreds of youth from that area prepare the Kibimba Secondary School to be reopened the following month. It had been closed in 1993 and used as a displaced person camp so was sadly in need of refurnishing.

AGLI’s major program in partnership with Burundi Yearly Meeting is to launch the Burundi Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Center (BTHARC). When David Niyonzima first proposed this to AGLI, I was uncertain if the Quakers had the skills to accomplish this. Other American Friends questioned if trauma healing was really peace work. David Niyonzima replied that, if healing has not occurred, then the conflict will recycle again in the future. Healing is the first step needed before reconciliation and peace can occur.

BTHARC is a twenty-five month effort to launch this Center. Four Peace Team members, two Burundians—Charles Berahino and Adrien Niyongabo—and two Americans—Carolyn Keys and Brad Allen—make up the team. They have completed six months of training, two and a half in Burundi, and three and a half at the Quaker Peace Center in Capetown, South Africa. The actual work on trauma healing and reconciliation has just begun.

Perhaps all parts of the world have had their periods of violent conflict—Europe sure has and the Americas have had it also, during the time of the so-called "Indian wars" and the battle over slavery. The conflicts in the Great Lakes Region are therefore not unique. Nevertheless the death and destruction caused by the conflicts are to be deeply lamented. Today the world is quite small—one can get to the African Great Lakes in about a day from New York. Those enmeshed in the chaos of these conflicts are our brother/sister Quakers. They also share this planet with us. Our hearts, prayers, concerns, support, and assistance should reach out to them. When I was in Burundi in January, 1999, I was one of only the second group of expatriates to visit Burundian Quakers in a number of years. When I visited remote churches, people thanked me so profusely for just being there. I really have never had some much thanks for doing so little, except being there. But there is a Burundian saying, " A real friend appears during hard times." Are we F(f)riends? 

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