THE Archbishop of Burundi, the Most Revd Bernard Ntahoturi, who was visiting the UK earlier this month, urged the Government not to reduce its aid activity in his country.
He was in London as a guest of Christian Aid, having attended the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin (News, 28 January). He said that the Department for International Development (DfID) “is saying it is going to downscale its activities in Burundi, and we think that should be addressed. We are saying Burundi is one of the needy countries in that area.”
Sixty-five per cent of the population of nine million are Roman Catholic. Fifteen per cent — about one million — are Anglican. “There is an Anglican presence in every corner of Burundi,” the Archbishop said.
He suggested that governments and aid organisations working in Burundi should “channel their funds through the churches” because “the Church goes as far down as the grassroots. People trust the Church — in the sense that, if we say we are going to do this, we shall effectively do it.”
Archbishop Ntahoturi described the Mothers’ Union (MU) as “the backbone of the Church in Burundi”; an active MU “is a sign that a church is lively”.
The Anglican Church of Burundi and the MU run a micro-credit programme, which provides women with finance to produce and sell goods. “We are seeing the transformation, in the sense that they can now send their children to school; they are able to buy medicine, but also improve the household.”
As 45 per cent of the population is under the age of 18, education is one of the Church’s principal concerns in Burundi. It is working with Christian Aid and CMS Ireland to build schools. The backdrop to the Church’s development work is the civil war, which lasted from 1993 to 2000, and in which about one million died. The Archbishop said that the suffering of the people stretched back to 1972, when thousands of Hutus and Tutsis were killed.
He described the wounds as very deep: they “will take a long time to heal. . . Every family in Burundi has been affected in one way or another, losing a member of the family, losing a parent or both parents,” he said. “The Church is very much engaged in that reconciliation.”
One large-scale project, which the Church has undertaken in partnership with Christian Aid, is to plant six million trees: “mainly to replace those trees that were cut during the war”, and to protect the environment and provide fruit for families.
“This project has also helped us in the reconciliation process,” Archbishop Ntahoturi said. “In Burundi we have 500,000 people who have come back as returnees [from countries such as Tanzania and Congo], some of whom have been refugees in neighbouring countries for the last 37 years. Working on development projects can provide a ‘focus of reintegration’.
“The Church [in Burundi] believes the good news is not only to proclaim the gospel of salvation, but also to feed the hungry, to do justice, and to be an advocate for those issues that are against the well-being of the people.”