A delegation from the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches headed by His Excellency former President Joachim Chisano of Mozambique arrived in Burundi on 29th January 2008 for a 3-day visit at the invitation of the National Council of Churches of Burundi.
Among those welcoming the delegation on their arrival at the airport were the first Vice-President of Burundi, Dr. Yves Sahinguvu, and the Anglican Archbishop of Burundi and President of the National Council of Churches of Burundi, the Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi, along with other representatives from the National Council of Churches of Burundi.
President Chisano described the visit as an ecumenical visit to show solidarity with the people of Burundi. The delegation was bringing a message of love, peace, national unity, and fraternity. He said, “Our purpose is to encourage Burundians to find solutions to problems …and to persist with dialogue at all levels.”
The delegation met the President, Vice Presidents, and other senior politicians, as well as former Presidents, Church leaders, a UN representative (BINUB), the Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and representatives from civil society.
In a key-note speech to Church leaders President Chisano referred to the contribution of Mozambique to peace in Burundi and the work of advocacy undertaken through the initiatives of the Forum of Former Heads of State of Africa. He spoke about the importance of engendering a climate of trust that should be part of the role of the Church.
He challenged the Church to apply its moral authority, to help build consensus, to engage with strengthening Burundi’s institutions in order to analyse where reform is needed, and to encourage the Government of Burundi to create an atmosphere of confidence that will enable the FNL to return.
Civic education was emphasized for creating a basis for the success of democracy that would ensure that citizens understood democratic processes and interpreted correctly the laws and norms of society.
The Church was called upon to be vigilant when the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation begins its work so that a positive climate is created and not one that provokes resentment and revenge.
The need and importance of dialogue and a national consensus were stressed. It was agreed by the former Presidents of Burundi that there has been, and still is, a deficit of dialogue at all levels.
It was acknowledged that the challenges are great. The Church is called upon to demonstrate faith, unity and hope, and courage to speak and act for the “voiceless”. The Church needs to engage with all those in leadership so that it can fulfil a complementary or an advisory role in the country. The task of reconciliation can best be done by the Church.
Reference was made to the fact that, even though there have been improvements in the situation in Burundi, support and solidarity with others is still important especially when tackling issues that still remain to be addressed such as the climate of fear, crime and corruption, insecurity, reintegration of former combatants, return and resettlement of refugees, human rights, poverty, disarmament, and a conclusion to negotiations between the Government and the FNL rebel movement. A proper answer to these issues would contribute immensely to the consolidation of peace in Burundi.
President Chisano emphasised that all “stakeholders” need to be inspired to find solutions, to eliminate fear, and to educate civil society. Reconstruction of basic structures within the country needs to take place.
He called upon Burundians to resist temptations of all kinds that would return them to war. He then called on the FNL to return home and seek peace. “Guns” he said, “do not solve problems, they destroy.”
A request was made to the WCC and the Forum of Former Heads of State of Africa to help the Church to be empowered for the work of reconciliation, to assist with the organisation of forums for dialogue and programmes for capacity building, to strengthen the fight against all forms of violence, and facilitate disarmament. Coordinated cooperation between the Churches and the organizations of civil society also needs to be strengthened for the benefit of all the people of Burundi.
The delegation gave assurance that the Churches of Burundi would receive support from the world church and the various church councils of Africa, as well as by the Eminent Persons Programme and the Forum of Former Heads of State of Africa. His Excellency stated, “The churches from outside are willing to support you in the search for peace. We will be your advocates in the world but please help us to help you.”
In his concluding remarks, the Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi thanked His Excellency former President Joachim Chisano for his commitment to Burundi and commended the ecumenical nature of the visit. He said, “Our mission is shared and now we have a common vision. I think the visit has been a blessing.”