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Mason Student Strives to Bring Peace Before Dangerous African Vote

August 14, 2015

School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution graduate student Vigny Nimuraba at the Arlington Campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution graduate student Vigny Nimuraba at the Arlington Campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in early July, when student Sixte Vigny Nimuraba was traveling to his native Burundi in advance of the impending presidential election. Out of concern for his safety, the story was held until he returned to the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution after the re-election of Pierre Nkurunziza. Nimuraba says he has not changed his opinion on what will happen next.

By Buzz McClain

A George Mason University student is intervening between factions of violent political opponents in Burundi in an effort to study and practice peace processes and possibly help bring an end to conflicts ahead of the African nation’s presidential election.

Sixte Vigny Nimuraba, a PhD student and dean’s assistant at Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, said he is “trying to find out ways to work with different groups to make peace. The country is very hot right now.”

At issue is the possible reelection of President Pierre Nkurunziza who is running for a controversial third term. The Burundian constitution limits the president to two terms. The defiance has alarmed a significant portion of the population and promoted uprisings that often turn violent against the establishment.

Nimuraba’s travel to Burundi was made possible thanks to a genocide prevention grant to Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He was planning to conduct two nonviolence activities in Burundi. One in Gitega and another in Bururi province.

“I’m also collecting information so I can submit a proposal to seek funding for nonviolence training and peace-building in Burundi,” he said.

“Violence has become the most common tool for those who are not happy about how things are going. Do people really know that nonviolence can also help them achieve their goals? That is my mission. Help the Burundian people to find alternatives to violence”

But he added that a large-scale uprising against the government may be in the works: “A portion of the military has already left their camps; they say they are forming a rebellion. This is one of the things I am trying to find out.”

Meanwhile, Nimuraba is using his conflict and peace-building skills to bring communities together to begin dialogue in the hopes of diffusing tensions. In recent weeks he has organized meetings of community members and hosted amateur sports festivals.

“Not everybody wants to be violent, not everybody wants to fight,” he said. “There are people who really still want peace. But it is really, really difficult to know to which group people belong. They either support or they don’t support, and even people who are siblings can fight and kill each other because of that.”

The 2013 Mason John Burton Award winner has held positions with several genocide prevention agencies and nongovernment organizations promoting peace. Still, his experience in Burundi has been eye-opening, he said.

“I have learned so much about ethnic conflicts and divisions,” he said.

Nimuraba came to Mason from his native Burundi to deepen his knowledge of peace-building skills at the internationally renowned School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, but was hesitant to apply because he spoke Kirundi, Swahili and French. Luckily, he was able to study Academic English for six months at Mason’s English Language Institute, now called INTO Mason, and then be admitted to the school.

“I wanted more skills so that I can be here for my society, for my community, for my country.”

What happens if Nkurunziza is reelected?

“I think a new rebel group may be formed,” he said forlornly. “We really don’t know what will happen.”

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