At a mountaintop retreat center overlooking Bujumburu on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Kroc professor Daniel Philpott recently led workshops on political reconciliation for leaders of Burundi’s Catholic Church. Now at peace, Burundi is recovering from nearly five decades of ethnic violence and war.
“The Church is the strongest and most respected civil society actor in Burundi,” said Philpott, who traveled to east Africa at the invitation of Archbishop Evariste Ngoyagoye. “In a country that is 62 percent Catholic, the Church has the potential to bring its message of reconciliation into the political order.”
Rebuilding and Reconciliation
Reconciliation is an ancient religious concept that means “restoration of right relationships,” said Philpott, a political scientist and specialist in reconciliation and faith-based diplomacy. It involves elements of healing, repentance, and forgiveness.
The idea of political reconciliation emerged in the late 1990s in countries like Chile and South Africa, which were rebuilding after periods of war or extreme violence, Philpott said. In a number of cases, religious communities and leaders, most famously Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, strongly encouraged and led truth and reconciliation commissions. The Church in Burundi is now examining those experiences and considering how it should be involved in Burundi’s upcoming process of truth and reconciliation, which may begin after elections in 2010.
Burundi was at war regularly between 1958 and 2003. One of the world’s poorest nations, the 10,000-square-mile country just south of Rwanda shares Rwanda’s history of violence between Tutsi and Hutu populations. The Arusha Peace Accords of 2000 brought a general settlement, although it took three more agreements before fighting stopped. The peace accords mandated a truth commission and a national special tribunal for war crimes.
Accompanying Philpott to Burundi was Fr. Jean Nyembo, a master’s student in peace studies and a Jesuit priest from the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nyembo served as French-English translator and regional expert.
Philpott is the editor of The Politics of Past Evil: Religion, Reconciliation, and the Dilemmas of Transitional Justice (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). He is working on a new book titled Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation. He joined Notre Dame’s faculty in 2001.
Contact: Daniel Philpott, (574) 631-7667, email@example.com.