A few days ago, Bob was finally able to contact one of his “private contacts”, a fellow named Godefroid. Godefroid’s office is actually in walking distance of the hotel here. He and Bob spent a few hours together. That evening, Bob told us that he’d been pretty excited by what he heard, that Godefroid has some really heavy stuff going on and that he volunteered to get some of his friends who are professionals in Bujumbura to join us tonite for a brief meeting.
I tried to steel myself up for what has become a fairly typical program. People come in, they tell us how they’re helping the poor, the neediest of the needy, and if we can’t help directly can we please make their case known in The Land of Plenty?
It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that at all. Godefroid’s project is all about truth and reconciliation. He and his small group of 15 are attempting to drive a truth and reconciliation project in Burundi.
The first step of the project is to use a GPS to try to locate as many as possible of the mass graves. Then they want to disinter the bodies and give them a decent burial. They want to build a memorial center where they record how many, what location, what year. They won’t be able to ever identify who exactly was killed when and buried where, but where people have an idea such as, my father was killed in 72 near Cibitoke, they can get some peace from knowing that his body may have been found and given a decent burial.
It goes beyond that, the ultimate goal is to get the murderers as well as the victims to tell their stories, not for retribution but because they believe that as long as the murderers are sitting alone in their guilt that no one can be at rest.
Bob started asking around the group, as though it were a GCJ delegation, “so, tell me about your work, your life. What’s it like to do your job in Burundi?” We had a university teacher of anthropology, a government statistician, a lawyer in the justice department, as well as Godefroid, who gave up his career as an agronomist to pursue this project.
The lawyer had been a student of the anthropologist in Burundi. They met again in Tanzania where they had both fled the violence and became friends. They seemed to be very good friends, and their friendship deepened when they returned to Burundi. The fact that one is a Hutu and the other a Tutsi had no impact, they are just friends.
The anthropologist was the only one who said he is unhappy with his work. He just doesn’t have the resources to do a good job. He has no textbooks, no computer, nothing to do for a class of 50 to 200 kids but talk and write on the chalkboard.
The lawyer was especially passionate, his words tumbling out rapid fire, sometimes piling up in a near stutter. He talked about how the judicial system is completely controlled by the executive branch. The anti-corruption group is the highest paid group in the justice department, and they are forbidden from challenging anyone in the government (i.e, the corrupt ones). I worried a bit, if it’s permitted to speak so freely in this country. He said that when he took his post he was the ONLY Hutu in the judicial branch.
A smaller, younger man joined us part way through. He seemed quite young, perhaps early twenties. He said he understood English but didn’t speak it well, so he told his story in French. He didn’t want to talk much about his job, he’s recently started a job as a lecturer in anthropology at the university. The other anthropologist is one of his PhD advisors.
He has a bit of a baby face, with a spare moustache and soft brown eyes. His mouth pulls up often into something like a smile, but the story he told was not one of smiling.
He was born in 1972 (easily 10 years older than I’d have guessed). 1972 was the first year of Hutu/Tutsi violence. In 1972 his father and his brother were killed and his mother was stabbed while he was in utero. All of their possessions were taken. Someone picked up a bottle cap from a Fanta bottle and said, “They didn’t have THIS much to live on.” Somehow (details mercifully skipped) by the grace of god, he was able to get his education all the way through university. He got a job in government as a foreign officer but left to go back to school because he has a deep thirst for intellectual and moral growth.
I stand in awe of such suffering. I stand in awe of this quiet man’s half smile. I stand in awe of this man, this man and his friends seeking truth not for punishment but so that all of Burundi can be freed from the horrors of the past.
Godefroid just wants to get the word out. Here’s another African hero, we’ve met so many in the past few days. Here’s another. I’m a little hesitant to put much identifiable information here, although they said they are no longer clandestine. I told them, though, that I’d recommend any of them who are interested to be delegates or town hall members next year, and at the very least I would be sure they were invited to present to the delegation as they just presented to us.