Burundi: Identity can kill & kill with abundance


A Hutu soldier arrests a Tutsi soldier in Burundi

In his preface to the 1982 edition of capitalism and freedom, originally written in 1962 when monetarism and neo – liberalism were still being mocked.

The arch – monetarist Milton Friedman commented, ‘Our basic function is to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable’.

This is where progressive thinking stands today. A great many youths are at the centre of turmoil around multiculturalism and personal identities.

A defining feature of all denizens is absence of rights.

Citizenship is about the rights to posses an identity, a sense of knowing who is and with whom one has shared values and aspirations.

Today, many youths have no secure identity. But in Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan, and Somalia and in several countries in Africa, we cannot run away from multiculturalism and multiple identities.

A sense of identity can be a source not merely of pride and joy but also of strength and confidence.

And yet identity can also kill and kill with abundance.

A strong and exclusive sense of belonging to one group can go with the perception of distance and divergence of other groups.

And can contribute to fomenting conflict organized around group categories.

Within group solidarity can go hand in hand with between group discord.

We may be certainly informed that we are not just Burundians but specifically Hutu’s and we hate Tutsi’s.

There has be some deep vulnerability in human comprehensions that provide fertile ground for exploitation and manipulation on which the instigators draw.

The currency of group love, leaves room for an invitation to group hatred. The cordiality of identifying with others in an affiliated group seems to stand in some readiness to be extended to scolding and burning others excluded from and seen as enemies of one’s own affiliated group.

Identity is a double-edged sword, the constructive contribution of identity-oriented ideas come closely mixed with the more damaging potential.

A sense of identity can firmly exclude many people even as it warmly embraces others.

A well-integrated community in which residents instinctively do wonderful things for each other with great immediacy and solidary may also be the same community in which machetes and guns are used to execute others.

Violence associated with identity-based conflict seems to repeat itself around Burundi and many parts of Africa with dogged persistence.

We must of course go beyond to putting the responsibility for this terrible transgression entirely on bad apples.

But we must ultimately also go beyond securitizing the chain of command coming from above.

Essential as that scrutiny undoubtedly is at this moment. It is necessary to examine in addition why the apples in general carry in them the possible of having very war like mindset.

And how human being with normal family and background can act in such cruel and brutal ways with or without commands coming from above.

What makes the divisiveness of an imagined and unique identity potentially so brutal and relentless?

Is not, the mere presence of that divergence but rather the overlooking of other identities that humans being also have and which to can claim our attention.

For instance, a Hutu laborer from Bujumbura may be pressured to see himself only as a Hutu and in sighted to kill Tutsi and yet is not only a Hutu but also a Bujumburan, a Burundian, a laborer, a Christian, an African and a human being.

Turning to the political side of identity, our leaders are vehemently against acceptance of others’ identity and culture.

They also oppose the idea of identity on the ground that individuals are morally bankrupt and have no common identity.

Both postures are unhelpful, to put it mildly. It would be better to assert that we can and do have multiple identities, and we need to construct institutions and policies to defend and enhance them

The Burundian, Ugandan, and South Sudanese youths are most exposed to a crisis of identities. They must not desert multiculturalism or the legitimation of multiple identities.

They must do more to have its interests presented in all identity structures and institutions.

 Walter Ochanda, the author is an International Development Specialist

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