Everyone defends their position


Burundi Catholic Bishops have been, in general, accused of stirring up and sowing discord by Gitega on the eve of the Bishops’ statement read on September 22nd throughout the country. On the other hand, the clergy believes that its message has been misinterpreted.

CECAB: “The youth affiliated to the ruling party seem to replace the security forces.”

Members of the government and the ruling party headed by Willy Nyamitwe and Evariste Ndayishimiye, respectively Senior Adviser to the President and Secretary General of the CNDD-FDD party didn’t hesitate to strongly criticize them just after the release of the Bishops’ statement.
However, the Bishops’ statement had been leaked at the beginning of the week. The clergy recognizes that it is a serious mistake made by a member of the staff. The leakage allowed the power to catch the message and criticize it.

“Some Bishops should be defrocked because it has become a habit: on the eve of the elections, they should spread their hatred through incendiary messages,” said Willy Nyamitwe, Communication Senior Advisor to the President.

The same view is shared by the ruling party boss when he delivered his speech in Mugongo-Manga commune in Bujumbura province last week. “They will start dividing you again. Tomorrow, they will tell you that the Imbonerakure youths are abusing other members of political parties,” said Evariste Ndayishimiye. He also says if CNDD-FDD party activists are criminals, the Catholic Church must also assume that it is killing people as “85% of party activists are Catholic Christians”.

After these accusations, the clergy has attempted to give explanations. Bishop Bonaventure Nahimana, Bishop of Rutana province and Deputy Chairman of the Conference of Burundi Catholic Bishops, says the message was addressed to the Christians. “This is not a statement to the general public. It is a message calling on Christians to have tolerance and a sense of responsibility a few months before the elections. ”

The Catholic Bishops’ statement was read out on Sunday, September 22nd, in all parishes of the country. On the eve of the elections, the Bishops want to avoid indifference. This is an important moment for the country and its citizens. They appreciate the step achieved in the sustainability of democracy in Burundi. Their concerns are particularly related to the political violence observed recently. Criminal acts are being perpetrated against the opposition with impunity. The message also refers to the confusion between CNDD-FDD party and the administration. Thus, Bishops denounce the youth affiliated to this party who seem to replace the security forces. “Such a practice causes disorder that risks disrupting the climate favorable for the electoral process”, they said. They call on Christians who are in governing bodies to take their responsibility.

On September 25th, the government spokesman tries to close the debate. At a public conference that took place in Rumonge province with his colleagues, Prosper Ntahorwamiye said that relations between the government and the Catholic Church are good. He said their recent release and the debates around it are “a sign of democracy”.



Sylvestre Ntibantunganya: “The Church has the right and duty to be a kind of whistleblower”

Sylvestre Ntibanatunganya: “Burundians need to know the truth about the preparation and perpetration of crimes committed against democratically elected institutions in 1993”

According to the former Burundi President, the Church has the right and duty to express itself, to be a kind of whistleblower. It is not enough to denounce but also it would be a peace mobilizer. “The statement is balanced. It begins with a positive notification of what is going on throughout the country governed by the ruling party for three terms in office. So what is positive goes necessarily to the assets of its power”.

Sylvestre Ntibantunganya believes that the Bishops have also stated problems that exist. Finally, if there is ever a misunderstanding, the best method is that for those who are concerned to sit together and talk face to face to avoid all misunderstandings. For the former President, everything must be done to consolidate peace in Burundi. According to President Ntibantunganya, Martin Luther King’s sentence is very interesting: “Each religious denomination which is not able to find solutions to social, economic and political problems in its respective society, it doesn’t have the right to exist”.

Agathon Rwasa: “Those who accuse the Catholic Church of partiality are suffering from political blindness”

CNL party leader said he followed the virulent reactions against the bishops. For Agathon Rwasa, there was a false judgment against the Bishops. “Arguments fight with arguments”. For him, the government officials would have demonstrated the irrationality of the Bishops’ declaration instead of insulting and accusing them. In the absence of arguments, the concerns remain there and the power must find a solution to move towards peaceful elections. Those who accuse the Church of partiality are suffering from political blindness. They govern the country and don’t want to hear any opponent voice. “Otherwise, the Catholic Church has a moral duty to society like other churches in other countries. They must denounce abuses and be on the side of the truth. ”


The die is cast

The Catholic Church has always expressed itself since the Independence period. In 1972, it decided to denounce ongoing massacres but not strong enough, according to some.
In the 80’s, it engaged in confrontation with the then government. President Jean Baptiste Bagaza then tried to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church and forbid it to teach and celebrate Mass on weekdays. The unpopular measures will precipitate his downfall in 1987.

In 1993, the clergy also denounced the coup against the democratically elected President, Melchior Ndadaye and the killings that followed.

In March 2015, the Cndd-Fdd power found itself under the Church specter. The homily of Archbishop Simon Ntamwana in Gishubi commune in Gitega province remains in the memory. Gitega Archbishop strongly opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza who wanted to run for another term in office, called on Christians to oppose him, going so far as to say that those who support him in his approach will be no less than slaves. “We cannot vote for him. He would make us slaves. ”

On the eve of the elections, accusing the youth of the ruling party of substituting themselves for the police and of committing criminal acts with impunity is a very bad publicity for CNDD-FDD party.
A strong and unequivocal pastoral message pointed out the perpetrators of the abuses and victims. Such a message read out in all parishes of the country is a real “bomb” in terms of image a few months before the electoral campaign. When we know that about 80% of Burundians are from the Catholic religious denomination…

The government is aware of the strong influence of the Church. It remains to know whether these angry or even insulting reactions were the best way to defend its position… But at the public conference e that took place in Rumonge province, the President’s Spokesman gave some ground. The government spokespersons said the Bishops’ message is not a problem. The die is cast.

Agnès Ndirubusa translated by Diane Uwimana