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The duty of remembrance: Burundi National Assembly welcomes a Belgian parliamentary delegation on colonization

publie le Thursday 15 September 2022
parCommunication and Spokesperson’s Office

The Kingdom of Burundi, probably founded in the 17th century, became a part of German East Africa in 1890.
In 1916, during the World War I, Belgian troops arrived in the region. At the end of the war, Germany lost all its colonies and, at the Versailles Conference in 1919, the Kingdom of Belgium was mandated to take over the province of Ruanda-Urundi, now Rwanda and Burundi, a mandate renewed by the League of Nations in 1923. The kingdoms on the eastern bank of Tanganyika were assigned to the Tanganyika Protectorate administered by the United Kingdom. Belgium administered the territory indirectly, relying on the Tutsi aristocracy.
After the World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a trust territory of the United Nations under Belgian administrative authority.
Several crimes against humanity and unspeakable atrocities were deliberately committed under Belgian colonization. These crimes constitute blunders and are the direct result of the type of exploitation to which the Burundian people were subjected under King Leopold II to enable him to satisfy his economic greedy. The colonial inhumanity beyond its dreadful descriptions, which dates back more than sixty years, gives rise today to a reflection on a form of compensation by the contemporary Belgian generation.

That trust can be reborn between Burundi and Belgium, this is the ultimate expectation of the Speaker of the National Assembly of Burundi at the end of exchanges on the colonial past that a Belgian parliamentary delegation began with their Burundian colleagues on Tuesday, September 6, 2022. The contact, in which the bureau of the National Assembly and the chairmen of the standing committees took part, took place at the Kigobe Congress Palace.

In his introduction, the Chairman of the delegation of Belgian parliamentarians on the colonial past, who expressed the regrets of the King of the Belgians, welcomed the giant step taken by Belgium. 60 years after the independence of Burundi. Mr. Wouter De Vriendt argued that modern Belgium has begun an exercise of memory around three components. He enumerated the history, the recognition, reconciliation, reparation and the hearing stage. While recognizing the difficulty of the work due to the lack of a manual, he nevertheless reframed the process and the methodology to be followed, i.e. mutual respect in a welcoming attitude; inclusion and participation, as well as transparency. This initiative, which is the result of pressure from some political groups, will be followed by political debates on various topics, including the role and colored people and the visibility of the colonial past.

The Right Honorable, Speaker of the National Assembly, who first described as unforgettable the day of Tuesday, September 6, 2022, when for the first time in the history of Burundi the colonists and the colonized sat together to assess without prevarication the facts and consequences of this system of administration. The outcome is confusing, the Right Honorable Gelase Daniel Ndabirabe, who laid all the blame for Burundi’s evil on colonization, did not mince words: "The Barundians have been disturbed by men who came from nowhere with guns and rosaries in their hands. The Belgians have dehumanized the Barundians. You have plundered our wealth, raped our women. You have killed us, degraded us, degraded us in the name of beings with neither faith nor law.”

While admitting that colonization has tarnished Belgium’s image with some of the most inhumane violations, the head of the delegation nevertheless stressed that not everything is negative. Even if bilateral relations have had their ups and downs, Belgium has never abandoned Burundi. He mentioned the three key sectors of cooperation: education, agriculture and health.

The Speaker of the National Assembly counterattacked by saying that the school has created neo-colonialists, which is also not good. He also deemed that listening is a technique that is used for the patient. “In this case, who is sick? Your side? Our side? Who listens to whom?" he asked, emphasizing that this is not a requirement. For him, the executioner dictates instead of repenting and using a much more reconciliatory technique. Otherwise, listening is not an art of peer to peer.

Furthermore, the Speaker of the Lower House of the Burundian Parliament deplored Belgium’s non-participation in supporting the CVR (Comission de Vérité et de Réconciliation), Truth and Reconciliation Comission. Fortunately, Burundians have taken the firm resolution to rely on their own strength.

In a nutshell, "the future of this work will depend on your willingness and ours also to want to agree our views," said the Right Honorable Gelase Daniel Ndabirabe, Speaker of Burundi National Assembly.

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