Burundi: Colette Samoya Kirura

We can and must root ourselves on the long tradition of peace making that women have in Africa!

— Colette Samoya Kirura

Colette Samoya Kirura, born 1952, is a pioneer. From her student days she has been politically active; she was one of only two women elected to the Burundi’s parliament in 1982. In 1992 she became her country’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva. She headed the Union des Femmes Burundaises, and in 1998 she founded the peace organization Bangwe and Dialogue. It unites women of Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, strengthening their power in the reconciliation process and providing education, especially for displaced people.

Colette does not like to mention her ethnic affiliation, because, “It is high time we played down tribal differences, which the colonial powers stressed for their own interest. Tutsis and Hutus lived in peace before and can do it again!” Colette is a pioneer in many ways. She was the first girl from her village to attend a high school and one of the first two women to obtain a Masters Degree (in History and Geography). On graduation she became a college teacher. Politically active even in her student days, she was elected to parliament between 1982 and 1987, one of only two women. From 1992 to 1994 she served as Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, where she dedicated herself to the defense of human rights. She travelled several times back to her country, often at considerable risk, from 1987 to 1991 when she headed the Union des Femmes Burundaises. In 1998 she founded the Peace Organization Bangwe, which means “Stop fighting!” in Kirundi. It is developed on the women’s traditional mediation tasks when men fight. The organization, uniting women from all social and ethnic backgrounds, meets alternatively in one of the three war-stricken countries of the Great Lakes region to establish dialogue and cooperation. It strengthens women’s power in the peace process, using cultural tools such as poetry, song, theatre performances and works of art. The organization helps displaced people not only with material assistance, but education for women, young people and children. Widowed in 1992 and mother of three children, Colette does all this work on a voluntary basis, including the difficult task of securing the funds for the organization. She says, “I cannot stand violence, so I have to do something against it. Even as a child I could not tolerate injustice.” This is also the subject of her book, “La Femme au regard triste”.

Bangwe and Dialogue