Burundi: Léonie Barakomeza

I know no greater joy than meeting a friend whom I had believed was dead.

— Léonie Barakomeza

After civil war had broken out in Burundi, Léonie Barakomeza founded – together with former Hutu neighbor Yvonne Ryakiye and other women – the self-help organization Twishakira amahoro, which means “We want peace”. The women of the peace organisation have helped in reconstructing war-damaged houses.

Léonie Barakomeza, born in 1946, and her family were driven out of her village of Musaga by marauding Hutus because she was a Tutsi. The ethnic groups entrenched themselves on either side of the Kanyosha river. She and her former Hutu neighbor Yvonne Ryakiye gathered the courage and crossed the river in order to visit each other. This break of a strong taboo was the first step to a rapprochement of the warring parties. Over time, the Kanyosha river has dug a deep gorge through the fertile hills of Bujumbura. An equally deep rift of fear and hatred hindered the people living on its banks to use the shallow ford near Busoro. Léonie was one of the Tutsis who had been forced to flee across the river when the slaughter began in 1994. The warring parties entrenched themselves on either side of the river, which was considered a natural boundary. But Leonie refused to accept the situation of mounting tension, and she and her former neighbour Yvonne Ryakije dared to cross the river and visit each other. When they remained unharmed, other people followed their example. “Our men didn’t like this,” remembers Léonie, “but when they saw that the Hutu women brought us food and that we started to repair our houses together, they accepted our action.” Together with Ryakiye and other women, she founded Twishakira amahoro. Thanks to their initiative, the Tutsi and Hutu refugees were able to return to their villages, where the women of the peace organization help them reconstruct their war-damaged houses. Léonie says, “There is still a lot to do. Human rights are not respected in Burundi; people starve or are robbed and murdered.” Her vision is that peace will one day prevail in Burundi. Although she knows that this goal is still far from being achieved, she is no longer afraid.

Twishakira amahoro Search for Common Ground Burundi