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Protestants at Forefront of Tribal Reconciliation

1995This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

In the tiny central African nation of Burundi, it is difficult to find good news. Diplomats estimate that 100 people are being killed daily in interethnic violence between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi tribes. Chaos and despair are evident in many areas, including in numerous churches in this mountainous country of 6 million people, of whom 90 percent are Christian.

Many pastors have fled to neighboring countries. During the past two years, 14 Roman Catholic priests have been murdered. Threats on the lives of clergy are frequent, especially against those preaching reconciliation.

Nonetheless, many pastors and lay church workers are continuing their struggle to encourage peace and hope.

TIME TO HEAL: Amid the ongoing ethnic and political violence, Protestant churches and organizations have been at the forefront of reconciliation efforts to avert full-scale genocide on the level that erupted in neighboring Rwanda last year (CT, May 16, 1994, p. 54).

International observers agree that the situation in Burundi remains critical. Ethnic tensions similar to those in Rwanda have long raged in Burundi. Hutus, who account for 85 percent of the population, had been ruled for four centuries by the minority Tutsi tribe.

In recent times, Tutsi military dictators held power starting with national independence from Belgium in 1962, but hopes for a new era ran high after the June 1, 1993, victory of Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's first democratically elected Hutu president.

Then, in October 1993, Hutus saw elusive democracy being taken from them with the assassination of Ndadaye. Hutu militia started a bloodbath near the central town of Gitega. Tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed in a few days. Tutsis retaliated immediately in a campaign ...

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