Burundian Youth Leaders’ Fight for Peace: Finding Common Ground

February 17, 2016

Last week, we heard from Youth for Peacebuilding in Burundi’s Patience Kubwumuremyi about the program’s activities that are reducing unemployment and poverty. In a nation where job scarcity has left youth vulnerable to manipulation by political groups, Counterpart’s cash-for-work and vocational trainings help restore hope and safety among Burundi’s youth.

And it hasn’t stopped there. Y4PBB is uniting young people across the political divide. In 2015, the program trained 16,000 youth in violence prevention and peacebuilding.

Additionally, in fall 2015, the program held a workshop for youth leaders from different communities and political parties to gather in a safe space and share their perspectives. The workshop also trained the youth in conflict mitigation and vocational skills, preparing them to lead cash-for-work projects in their respective communities. Sixty youth from 10 communities attended and have since helped prepare cash-for-work initiatives that will engage 1,500 more young people.

Recently, we spoke with several workshop participants about their lives amid Burundi’s turmoil and their experiences following the workshop. Below are responses from two youth participants:

Ines, a member of Alliance for Democratic Change (an opposition party)

Ines, a youth leader in Burundi


and Elysée, a leader of the Imbonerakure youth movement for National Council for the Defense of Democracy (the ruling party).

Elysée, a youth leader in Burundi


How has the political conflict affected you?

Ines: “It’s like there are no laws. Many of my neighbors have left the country and are living as refugees. I was forced to move too. Everyone is afraid, we feel constantly in danger. The youth have lost hope in the future of our country and in our own futures too.”

Elysée: “People don’t trust each other anymore. My neighbors know I’m a member of the youth movement and people who don’t share my political opinions are afraid of me.”


Have you ever attended a workshop like this before?

Ines: “Yes, but what’s new is Counterpart’s approach: starting the process by engaging youth on both sides. This way, we were all involved at the same level. On the last day, I noticed former enemies talking and eating together. No one could have imagined this could happen.”

Elysée: “I’ve participated in a lot of different workshops run by a lot of different organizations, but this one had a new approach. Counterpart started by identifying youth on both sides. This is unique. On the first day of the workshop, I sent a friend of mine ahead to see if it was safe for me to go. I can’t trust many organizations because they pretend to be neutral when they’re not and it puts me in danger. When I heard the participants were diverse, I knew I could go.”


What did you learn at the workshop?

Ines: “I used to feel a lot of hate toward people of the ruling party, but since the workshop, my heart has become soft again. I’m more tolerant and open to discussion. Violence is no longer an option for me because we’ve found an alternative. I feel more confident and have more hope.”

Elysée: “At the workshop, I met youth like Doddy, who is a well-known opposition leader. Now we’re friends and we have a different perception of each other’s opinions. Counterpart managed to help us work through a huge challenge. Now we can walk around even ‘enemy land’ feeling confident and safe.”

Feb. 23, 2016 – This post was corrected to more accurately reference the youth movement Imbonerakure.

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