Death swept quickly through Burundi. It was October 1993. Just months earlier this small Central African country had sworn in its first Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye, in the first democratic elections since it gained independence in 1962. President Ndadaye’s rule lasted only 103 days. His life – and the country’s first experiment in democracy – came to an abrupt end on 21 October 1993 at the hands of a group of soldiers from the Tutsi-dominated army. Over 50,000 people were killed in the months that followed.

Testimony of hate

‘On the road where one of the confrontations had taken place, I watched helplessly as a group of four or five Tutsi boys with machetes cut the throats of two small Hutu girls, six or seven years old,’ recalls Alexis Sinduhije, a journalist with the state-owned radio station at the time. ‘All of my Hutu colleagues wanted [this story] to be broadcast. My Tutsi colleagues opposed it.’ And so did the Tutsi-controlled radio station for which Alexis worked. It refused to broadcast his report.

‘Kill your neighbours before they kill you.’ This was the message being sent out by media to both the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. Alexis appealed to his radio colleagues to challenge such hate speech. Again, his colleagues refused.

Six months later, neighbouring Rwanda fell headlong into a genocidal abyss. The speed and scale of the slaughter – where almost a million Tutsis and Hutus were killed in just over three months – was a chilling warning to neighbouring Burundi. Pivotal in provoking the Rwandan slaughter was Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which called on Hutus to destroy the inyenzi (cockroaches) – the term that Hutu extremists gave to Tutsis. Soon after, in Burundi, Radio Rutomorangingo (‘the radio that tells the truth’) began to broadcast similar hate speech.

The power of radio is far-reaching in Burundi. As one listener explains: ‘We are an oral culture for whom the radio is much more important than any other media. People gather around the radio daily with banana beer and comment on what the radio is saying.’

It was against this backdrop that Studio Ijambo (‘wise words’) was launched in 1995. Established by Search for Common Ground (a US-based charity working to help prevent violent conflict in ‘hot spots’ around the world) it had a clear brief to reach the largest number of people – both perpetrators and victims of violence – with eyewitness accounts that would define the conflict in human terms.

‘The Studio aimed for journalism that highlighted tolerance, different perspectives and the views of ordinary people. These things really hadn’t been done before in Burundi,’ recalls Adrien Sindayigaya, who joined Alexis Sinduhije shortly after the launch. One of the early ‘ground rules’ set by the Studio was the use of mixed Hutu-Tutsi teams to cover stories. For security reasons, it made sense to travel in mixed teams to minimize the threat of being attacked by one group or another at impromptu roadblocks. In addition, it gave listeners both Hutu and Tutsi perspectives on sensitive issues, while sending a message that living and working together is possible. ‘The challenge of remaining neutral is a skill that helps us in our personal lives too,’ says producer Francine Gahimbare.

Perseverance prospers

‘Initially some people called us mercenaries and traitors because we were ready to denounce violence from any side, even from our own communities,’ says Adrien. On one occasion, Studio Ijambo staff barely escaped an ambush that was believed to have been ordered by an army commander furious that the journalists had visited an area where there had been heavy fighting between the army and Hutu rebels. On another, a senior minister instructed the army: ‘If you see these journalists, treat them as you would your enemy.’ Despite these risks the journalists persevered – and prospered.

Studio Ijambo isn’t a radio station. It’s a production studio. Rather than having to invest heavily in the infrastructure necessary for broadcasting, the staff have been able to focus solely on making quality programmes which – through partnerships with stations in Burundi and neighbouring countries – now reach millions of people across Central and East Africa. And since the Studio’s programmes proved so popular with ordinary Burundians, it wasn’t long before other media organizations began copying its style and format.

Its output has been prolific. In addition to award-winning news reports, it also produces stories about the peace process in Burundi; discussion programmes involving youth, refugees and women’s groups; as well as Heroes – a programme about ordinary people who saved the lives of others during the conflict. Perhaps its best-known production is Umubanyi Niwe Muryango (‘Our Neighbours, Our Family’). A phenomenally successful radio drama about a Tutsi and Hutu family living next door to each other, the challenges facing ordinary Burundians are reflected in these two families as the country moves from war to peace.

Can Studio Ijambo be as powerful a force for peace as it is against hate? The Studio’s former Director, Francis Rolt, acknowledges that there are limitations to what can be achieved by media alone. The promotion of human rights and fair elections, and the elimination of corruption and small arms, are just some of the issues that need to be tackled to reduce the chances of future conflict. It is in part a measure of the Studio’s success that such issues are now being discussed openly in Burundi.

‘Conflict is not just about war,’ Adrien says. ‘There are a lot of conflicts in Burundi right now: conflicts over good governance; disarmament; the repatriation of displaced people; land tenure; justice; women’s issues. We need to have a dialogue on all these issues. There is plenty more work for us to do.’

Dylan Mathews is a researcher on conflict issues and author of War Prevention Works – 50 stories of people resolving conflict (Oxford Research Group, 2001).

Quotes from the report Ijambo: Speaking Truth Amidst Genocide by Alexis Sinduhije were used in this article.

Interview with Zvakwana

THE words are everywhere. Zvakwana! Enough is enough! Scrawled on walls and street signs; printed on matchboxes and clothes pegs. From the cities to the towns and through to the villages all across Zimbabwe, this message-of hope and of defiance-is slowly spreading. It's making the authorities nervous. 'These [Zvakwana] people, whoever they are, have been hiding and spreading material and literature aimed at inciting members of the public to lawlessness,' said a police spokesperson. 'We would be interested in talking to them,' he said -Government doublespeak for interrogation, beatings or worse.

Zvakwana means 'enough is enough' in the Shona language; the Ndebele alternative word is 'Sokwanele'. According to one activist, it is also 'a network of ordinary people who are encouraging Zimbabweans across the country to get up, stand up and speak out about the basic issues that are currently before us: poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of healthcare, failing education and the root cause of all of these problems, bad governance.' Within these messages lie the network's crime: to criticize the Government of the ageing and increasingly autocratic ruler of Zimbabwe - Robert Mugabe.

It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend the magnitude of the leap backwards that Zimbabwe has taken in just a few years. Imagine a Government that claims that unemployment stands at 9 per cent when more than 70 per cent of the employable population is out of work. Or a country where annual inflation stands at 150 per cent (the highest in the world), where international relief agencies are ordered to stop distributing food while the number of people in need of food continues to rise. A land where opposition politicians are routinely targeted for assassination and clandestine torture training camps teach young men to kill and intimidate those who speak out against Mugabe's regime.

But 'our target is not the small dictator,' says one of Zvakwana's representatives. 'It is the people of Zimbabwe. Our message to them is to find courage, to refuse to be intimidated, trampled on, abused and taken for granted. Our message of individual and collective activism is essential to changing the way things are here.'

The network's street-level activism takes many forms. In one action, Zvakwana distributed thousands of 'revolutionary condoms' throughout Harare and beyond, with the slogan 'Get up, Stand up!' emblazoned on the packaging. Another campaign on Robert Mugabe's birthday urged people to send him 'Happy Retirement' cards to let him know that he's passed his 'best before' date.

'We rely a lot on humour in our activism to curb the fear and suspicion with which many people might receive our message. It's also done in the hope that it will get Zimbabweans talking, to have a laugh together and to show one another that anyone can write a message of inspiration and put it on a banknote or slip it into a matchbox. Activism can really be that basic.'

That's why Zvakwana's newsletters and leaflets mix humour and satire with robust criticisms of government policy. These texts are also part-history lesson, informing their readers of the non-violent techniques that have been successfully used around the world. So, in one recent issue, activists could read about how to protect themselves from the effects of teargas and how to react if arrested.

The country goes to the polls this month in what is likely to be the most important general election since its independence. Zvakwana, the Movement for Democratic Change and other opposition groups, as well as a great number of Western observers, are predicting a rerun of the political violence, vote-rigging and voter intimidation that plagued the 2002 election and which led to a victory for Robert Mugabe and his party, Zanu PF. Those caught distributing Zvakwana's newsletters and leaflets can expect torture and imprisonment.

Archbishop Pius Ncube, one of the regime's most vocal critics, recently lamented the lack of a powerful figurehead for the opposition movement: 'We don't have a Mandela, we don't have a Gandhi.' And yet the extraordinarily brave and courageous individuals of Zvakwana -who are so determined to bring about change without resorting to violence- seem to offer precisely the calibre of leadership that Zimbabwe needs right now. May their members-and their message-prosper.

Zvakwana talked to Dylan Matthews

Brave steps towards peace

TOP: A sporting chance: Adrien Tuyaga has helped unite Burundi’s Hutus and Tutsis through football in Africa. MIDDLE: Fr Prakash confronts the causes of racial violence in the streets of Ahmedabad, India. BOTTOM: Tony Sheldon walking in protective accompaniment with the (then) leader of Flower Aceh, threatened because of her outspoken human rights work in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Scoring goals in Burundi

‘I was in the middle,’ recalls Adrien Tuyaga. ‘Each side wanted me to join them and participate in the violence. I thought I would be killing my mother if I joined the Hutus and betraying my father if I joined the Tutsis. This is how I started to think of ways to pull people together.’

Adrien comes from Burundi, a country ripped apart by a fratricidal war that has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people. Like neighbouring Rwanda, the conflict in Burundi is popularly portrayed as one in which ‘age old’ ethnic enmity between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority routinely manifests itself in extreme violence. In reality, the conflict is the result of a deliberate and calculated use of violence by members of a small self-appointed and self-advancing élite, acting in the name of the two main ethnic groups in their ongoing struggle for political power.

With a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father who was killed during the first genocide massacres of 1972, Adrien wasn’t prepared to do as so many young men of his age had done and take sides in the conflict. Instead he began organizing football matches between Tutsi and Hutu youth. ‘I targeted the youth leaders because they could start or stop the violence. It didn’t matter how well they could play soccer,’ Adrien explains. The matches were a hit so Adrien began organizing a tournament involving mixed teams – Hutu and Tutsi together on the same side, playing against other Hutus and Tutsis. In this way the seemingly impenetrable barriers that separated the two groups began to fall away.

Adrien, who by now had formed a small organization called JAMAA – which means ‘Friends’ in Swahili – then began bringing together many of the Hutu and Tutsi youth to talk about the violence that many of them had participated in. ‘Look. I didn’t profit from any of the killings,’ says Emile, once an active member of a Tutsi militia. ‘I was poor before and I am poor now. The politicians told us to kill and now we have to pick up the pieces.’

This ‘trauma counselling’ was complemented by efforts to reintegrate the youths back into their communities by providing jobs, training and seed-funding for small income-generating projects with financial help from abroad.

Now, whenever tensions escalate in the city, Adrien and his friends quickly mobilize, targeting the youth most likely to be sucked into the violence. ‘Stay in solidarity, keep peace as your objective, protect it,’ was the message JAMAA recently took to the streets in response to mounting tensions in the capital city, Bujumbura. ‘The message was understood,’ says Adrien. ‘The leaders [of the militias] turned from violence to peace.’

Making space for peace in Aceh

‘The military were edgy, the villagers scared and I was feeling pretty apprehensive myself.’ Peace Brigades International volunteer Tony Sheldon is recounting the tension following a gun-battle moments after he arrived in the small town of Blang Pidie in South Aceh, Indonesia. The battle was just another event in the three-decade-long war between the Indonesian military and Acehenese separatists seeking independence.

Tony and another peace volunteer were in town to provide unarmed protective accompaniment to Syarifah Murlina, a lawyer from the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, as she investigated the recent disappearance of a man called Koes Sofian. It was now 10 days since Koes had gone missing. The concern was that he would be killed in military custody. As district head of a solidarity group for survivors of torture, Koes had come under suspicion from security forces for his defence of Acehenese human rights.

From a local police officer, the team learnt that only metres behind the local police station was an unofficial military post staffed by the Indonesian Special Forces. A furious vice-commander met the two peace volunteers and the lawyer as they approached the military post. ‘Obviously,’ said Tony, attempting to hose down the soldier’s anger, ‘your job is extremely difficult, dangerous and underpaid, no doubt made harder by interfering and ungrateful locals.’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ replied the Special Forces officer, starting to relax. ‘If you could confirm Koes Sofian’s whereabouts,’ interjected the lawyer, ‘unwanted higher-level intervention could be temporarily avoided.’ Shortly afterwards a dazed and severely beaten Koes Sofian was led limping from the military post. Only when he realized that the three were there to help did his one functioning eye show a spark of recognition. He then reached out and grabbed a peace volunteer’s hand.

Mustering all his diplomatic skills, Tony spoke calmly and deliberately to the officer about Koes. ‘Mr Sofian has now been assisting you 24 hours a day for 10 days. Do you anticipate that the investigations will be finished soon?’ The vice-commander hesitated momentarily then nodded. As Koes was led back to the camp, he turned his battered face to the trio and smiled. Although he would not be released for another 10 weeks, he – unlike countless others who disappear into military custody – would return to his family alive.

Approximately 80 Peace Brigade volunteers like Tony Sheldon are working in conflict zones across the world to ‘make space for peace’. ‘Local people are courageously defending human rights,’ says Tony. ‘It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be able to walk beside them.’

Jason McLeod is a peace activist from Australia. More information about Peace Brigades International can be found at

Myth busting in Ahmedabad

The newspapers call it the ‘massacre’ state. In February of this year in Gujarat, north-west India, violence on a level not seen since Partition was sparked when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set alight, allegedly by Muslim fanatics, in the town of Godhra, resulting in 58 deaths. In the nearby city of Ahmedabad Hindu militants swiftly set about exacting revenge, burning down Muslim houses and Mosques, killing Muslim neighbours and attacking Muslim communities, many of whom lived in the slums that encircle the city. By some estimates around 2,000 people were killed and over 100,000 were displaced.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ was the assessment of Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest who has lived in Ahmedabad for many years and who has seen the carnage left by rioting before, including the 1968 Mumbai riots, those of 1969 throughout Gujarat, and the Delhi anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

Until recently Father Prakash was the Director of Saint Xavier’s Social Service Society, a small non-governmental relief organization working in some of Ahmedabad’s many slums where he spearheaded a number of initiatives aimed at promoting interfaith harmony. One of the most inspiring has been the setting up of informal ‘peace committees’ whose primary job is to counter inflammatory propaganda spread mostly by Hindu extremists and designed to encourage violence against Muslims. As soon as a rumour begins to circulate, the peace committees spring into action, holding a community meeting in the slums to determine how the rumour started, by whom and why. In this way the community meetings act as a safety valve, allowing the local people to come together, ask questions and learn the truth. With rumours travelling at lightning speed through the twisted alleys of the city’s slums, the ‘myth busting’ work of the peace committees is a potent antidote to the fears and mistrust that often lead to violence.

Now Father Prakash has set up his own organization, Prashant, which means ‘all-pervasive peace.’ Through think-tanks he brings together influential Hindu, Christian and Muslim leaders who are encouraged to reflect on the violence in the state and seek solutions to religious and cultural intolerance. Through the print media, television and public talks his myth-busting work continues.

All agree that the recent violence in Gujarat has set back the work of organizations such as Saint Xavier’s and Prashant by years. And yet Father Prakash, known to his friends as the incorrigible optimist, remains upbeat. ‘If we had a presence in every slum in the city,’ he says, ‘imagine what could be achieved. Imagine!’

Dylan Mathews is the author of War Prevention Works (Oxford Research Group, 2001): a collection of 50 inspiring stories of people resolving conflict across the globe. More information: or Tel: +44 (0) 1865 242 819

Subscribe   Ethical Shop