Burundian Youth Leaders’ Fight for Peace: Part 1

February 9, 2016

Imagine you’re a teenager in Burundi, a landlocked little country in Central Africa and one of the world’s poorest nations. In Burundi, more than 80 percent of citizens live in poverty, and around you, people are in trouble. Peers from your school have been swept up in the political violence that has plagued the country for decades, but which reignited with fervor last spring. Many other people you know have lost their homes, maybe even their lives in the crisis.

How will you stay safe? How will you build a future?

Road between Gitega and Bujumbura in Burundi. Photo by David Proffer /

Road between Gitega and Bujumbura in Burundi. Photo by David Proffer /

Since the most recent political turmoil erupted in April, more than 200,000 people have fled their homes, thousands have lost their jobs, and at least 250 have been killed. Neighbors have turned against neighbors as suspicions rise and divisions deepen. Youth, in particular, find themselves at risk.

In our three-part series, we invite you into Burundi and Counterpart’s work helping courageous youth leaders build peace across their communities. You will meet Patience, our Deputy Director in Burundi, to learn how we’re helping equip local youth to lead safe, stable lives. You’ll meet Ines and Elysée, youth leaders from opposing sides of Burundi’s political divide, to hear their stories. And you’ll meet Arsène, a youth leader from Cibitoke who, since the time of our interview, lost his life in the struggle for a more peaceful Burundi.

Burundian youth leaders

Youth leaders (left to right) Arsène, Elysée, and Ines from Counterpart’s Youth for Peacebuilding in Burundi program.

Will Work for Peace – Finding Jobs in Burundi

Already a country burdened by poverty, Burundi’s political crisis has severely worsened conditions. With two-thirds of the population younger than 25, thousands of youth are now competing for just a few safe jobs.

“Wherever you go, you see groups of unemployed youth on the street,” said Eric Nduwayezu, a young man from Bujumbura. “This certainly isn’t their choice. If youth – the majority of our people – are not given opportunity, what kind of country will we be? No development is possible where there is no employment.”

Counterpart’s Youth for Peacebuilding in Burundi (Y4PBB) program helps youth build better futures by reducing violence and increasing income opportunities. In fact, peace and jobs often go hand-in-hand.

“Youth are vulnerable because they are poor, and without a vision, they are more easily manipulated,” said Patience Kubwumuremyi, Y4PBB Deputy Director. “We’ve noticed youth are often used as tools for spreading insecurity and crime. People take advantage of their uncertain future, and so violence is perpetuated by and against desperate youth.”

To put an end to this cycle, Y4PBB connects youth with entrepreneurship training and access to cash-for-work programs. Since last year, it has trained more than 300 youth and enrolled 1,200 more in cash-for-work activities designed to benefit both the individual and his or her community.

“We have helped many young people find work planting tree nurseries, which protect our hills against erosion,” said Patience.

“We are proud to create jobs for youth that will have a positive ripple effect far beyond the life of just one person. These jobs are life-saving.”

Check back next week for Part Two of our series to hear two Burundi youth share their accounts of life since the crisis.

Share your thoughts on the Burundi crisis with us in the comments below.

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