Burundi is a deeply traumatised society struggling with violence and barriers to peace, specifically unfair access to land, widespread gender violence and unmet political, economic and social needs. Following her recent visit (August 2016) to provide training to our country staff, Cord’s Capacity Development Advisor Pia Frohwein shares her reflections.

It is difficult to make sense of the tensions in Burundi since President Nkurunziza decided to go for his controversial third term in May last year. It takes some effort to see between the lines and below the surface. What is highly visible is the presence of police and army. Heavily armed soldiers and policemen on trucks are patrolling through the quartiers of Bujumbura to demonstrate their power; sometimes they enter in a convoy, block a junction and arrest young men, which is quite intimidating. Being arrested is to be avoided in any terms. Still bodies are being found especially in the rural areas. Many are still missing.

But below the surface, and difficult to see is fear. Fear because of uncertainty. Voices are becoming quieter – but with news of a discovered body and new arrests, the fear resurfaces. It’s this fear which is like a poison creeping into the lives of the people. The coping strategy seems to be to continue with everyday lives and work.

As the critical media have been shut down, many journalists arrested or fled the country; there are only government compliant media left. So, how do people inform themselves about the current events? Smart mobile phones are the most important means in this crisis and it is understandable how closely people are checking them.

After sunset people pack away, market stalls are cleared and people rush home. Although there is no official curfew anymore in place, the majority avoids being on the streets after darkness. You never know.

For everyday Burundians the continued devaluation of the Burundian currency has been painful. Whoever can, changes money on the black market as the bank exchange rates are just too low. And the rates are changing daily; nobody knows exactly how much the Burundian Franc officially was yesterday or today. The devaluation directly translates into high prices for food and other everyday commodities.

When I arrived in Bujumbura I was told that the government has just closed down public bus routes to and from Rwanda. For historical and cultural reasons these buses have been a lifeline between the countries – used by people doing small business and for family visits. Now they are forced to take a much longer route through Tanzania or DRC. This means it’s getting increasingly difficult for already poor people to secure their livelihood.

I was told that many of the upper and middle class have left behind their houses, flats with furniture and everything. Many left to neighbouring Rwanda, Kenya or Tanzania, the wealthier to Europe or the US. Their favourite cafes and resorts are deserted and you wonder how they still can continue doing their business.

Those who remain are the supporters of the government and the majority of the poor who cannot afford to leave. And of course, also the watchful and increasingly concerned international organisations.

I was told by a colleague from the World Food Programme that more and more aid organisations are finding their way to Burundi to address the increasing challenges around health and nutrition. Yet still others work on conflict transformation and peacebuilding, among them Cord. Together with our partners we will increase our efforts to continue working on mutual understanding, inclusion in diversity, bridging the differences and supporting people to secure their livelihoods.

The training with colleagues and partners in Bujumbura has shown how successful and well perceived our joint project ‘Livelihood of the Batwa People’ is, how much change in people’s lives it already has brought and how passionate everyone is about it. We will now focus on improving where we can and on collecting stories of change to evidence the project’s impact in people’s lives.

This air of positivity is in short supply in an environment which is increasingly difficult – where peacebuilding can easily be interpreted as political interference. And it is in fact highly political as it is questioning and dealing with power dynamics through inclusion and equality, integrity and honesty, accountability and sustainability, restorative justice, partnerships and local peacebuilders, all that to reach out for the transformative change in the lives of people. We hope it becomes evident that we are driven by our values of love, compassion, spirituality and non-violence which shall prevail and connect us.