October 14, 2013


by Elysé Ndayihimbaze

RESO reunion speech by Special representative of the UN Secretary General in Burundi echoes the importance of SPARK Youth Engagement Program.

 “Are you expecting post-conflict leaders to act like regular leaders? How do you get post-conflict leaders to respect their position, the law and justice?”

I walked into these rhetorical questions while finding a sit inside the City Hill Conference room and instantly more questions started popping up in my mind. Two weeks ago, I attended my first RESO reunion and it was a pleasure to listen and take notes from Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Special representative of the UN Secretary General in Burundi.  The topic of the day was “Aspects related to the work of the UN and NGOs in Burundi” and it was heavily linked to the 2015 elections.

2015 is a big year for Burundi and on this note, Mr. Parfait acknowledged the progress made by NGOs in Burundi since 2007, and then he stressed the need for patience and positive projections by NGOs in years to come. “Normally peace is followed by violence in this country”, he noted, “so it is necessary to not only silence those who pose a threat to peaceful elections, but as well to encourage Burundians, especially the youth to participate in activities which promote peace and unity.”

The SPARK Youth Engagement Program (YEP) in Burundi is one of the vehicles of peace which is excelling in increasing youth awareness and involvement in the political environment through training programs which builds trust amongst Burundian citizens. The program which started in 2012 has made some huge strides in sparking political debates and fruitful dialogue amongst youth in Burundi. So far, four leadership training sessions have been held by YEP, from these over 120 youths have been trained and some of the early signs of this program’s success are the warm interactions amongst the trainees and the understanding these trainees have of the political and business environment in Burundi.

The form of leadership advocated for by YEP is exemplary and challenging. On Friday, I attended a YEP leadership training workshop led by Fontaine Isoko (YEP Partner) and I was thrilled by the ideas which were being exchanged, more specifically one which was shared during a lunch time discussion. While on the topic of poor governance, one of the YEP trainees mentioned, “It is important to accept that although naturally we want perfect leaders, a perfect government… that is fiction. Poor governance is a global issue which certain countries handle better than others but the bottom line is that coup d’états are not a solution and killing is not a solution, we have tried these things and we have failed…” Her passionate comment echoed Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga’s closing remarks during the RESO reunion, he said, “reforms are starting to bear fruit… thus we should jealously guard peace as we cultivate a better political environment in this country… Let us ensure that 2015 holds nothing more than a time for Burundians to express their freedom of voting for their preferred leaders.”

Indeed there is need for Burundians, the youth especially, to examine their past, accept it and move past it. Thus engaging the youth from various political parties in a passionate discussion such as the one shared above, training and challenging university students to serve their peers as they aim for leadership positions and improving their socio-economic position in the process are all vital ingredients in preserving peace in Burundi. The path to progress is paved by peace, unity and a lot of hard work.

* Elysé Ndayihimbaze is a Program Officer at SPARK Burundi

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