Marguerite Barankitse, Laureate of the 2011 the Fondation Chirac Prize
Posted on : October 14, 2011
Following the inter-ethnic atrocities committed the day after the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye’s, the first democratically elected Hutu president in Burundi, Maggy, along with several children, took refuge in the bishop’s palace of Ruyigi. There, she would witness the massacre of 72 people. She managed to save 25 children, whom she would adopt in order to provide them with a real “peace education”.
Maggy has since taken in thousands of war orphans, both Hutu and Tutsi, and created an NGO to help them. Her role as foster mother has earned her the nickname “woman with 10 000 children”1 and her unwavering devotion has bestowed upon her the title of “African Mother Teresa.”
When Ruanda-Urundi achieved independence on July 1, 1962, it was split in two; one half of which became Burundi. This independence marked the beginning of thirty years of political instability during which the country was devastated by ethnic violence. The UN ranks Burundi among the eight poorest countries in the world: the proportion of the population living below the poverty line rose from 33.8% in 1993 to 67.4% in 20012 and life expectancy, reduced by AIDS, does not exceed 39 years3.
In 1993, Melchior Ndadaye, the first Hutu president to be democratically elected was assassinated by Tutsi officers. Thus began a civil war opposing Hutu (85% of the population), Tutsi (14%), and Twa (1%). The war killed over 250,000 people. The extermination of the Tutsi by the Hutu would be defined as a “genocide” in 1996 by a United Nations Commission of Inquiry.
On August 28, 2000, under the aegis of Nelson Mandela, the legal government of Burundi and the Burundian rebels signed a peace agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, which provided for a
transition period. The peace process accelerated in 2003 with the rallying of the main Hutu rebellion: the CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy).
However, the truce did not prevent the resurgence of ethnic violence. On August 24, 2004, the Hutu rebel group, Forces of National Liberation (FNL), claimed responsibility for killing 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees, who were originally from Rwanda. It was not until 2005 that a cease-fire would prevail and Burundi could finally start down the path of peace.
In February 2005, Burundi adopted a new constitution by referendum allowing parliamentary and presidential elections to be held after two successive postponements. New elections were held in Burundi from May to September 2010; opposition forces refused to participate. Following elections, serious tensions were felt between the re-elected President Pierre Nkurunziza and his opposition.
According to the International Crisis Group, these tensions could escalate violently in the coming months, ruining the credibility of the electoral process, and endangering a fragile democracy and the many achievements of the peace process.
Her action in video: