A Place at the Table

Breaking the Cycle

by Eva Nyandoro

Set in the headquarters of Amnesty International ‘A Place at the Table’ tells a gripping story of the strained relationship between the Hutus and Tutsis from ancient myths through colonialism to the 1993 assassination of Burundi’s President Ndadayc. The play looks at the conflicts in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and the genocide in Rwanda.

The experimental theatrical production takes you on an artistic journey using transcripts from the UN Security Report, refugees, campaigners and eye-witness accounts to produce a visual and verbatim play that invites the audience to take a place at a large table alongside the performers to eat, drink and reflect on what is fact, truth and fiction.

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The all-female cast of four use visual images throughout the play like the soldier chopping a fish with a machete on the table or the beautifully haunting voice of Grace Nyandoro accompanying the picture of a child soldier projected on to a screen. The performers use mime sequence and movement through dance to provide an intense performance that explores the disturbing relationship between two tribes that has resulted in the massacre of around 250,000 people in Burundi from 1972-1993, and the killing of over half a million people in Rwanda during the period August 1993 to July 1994. The play leaves you feeling a great sadness for what has past and what may happen again if people remain casual observers.

Director Paul Burgess tragically lost school-friend Charlotte Wilson after Charlotte and her Burundian born fiancée were killed on the way to meet his in-laws at the hands of the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People National Forces of Liberation (PALIPEHUTU-FNL) in Burundi. The tragic circumstances inspired the project as a way of raising awareness on the on-going troubles in Burundi, Rwanda and the African Great Lakes Region and to show that this is not something happening far away it can affect all of us.

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The Daedalus Theatre company project was a moving piece of work that explored the disturbing material in an original way. The play was performed throughout January and if you would like any further information on the play or any future work, checks out their website on: http://www.daedalustheatre.co.uk

Last year the country celebrated 50 years of independence.  Today peace in the region is fragile with fears of a civil war breaking out at any moment. Sadly the cycle of ethnic violence continues in Burundi as a new generation of youngsters are repeating the crimes of their fathers. There is no easy solution or quick fix to the problems the Burundian people face but violence, intimidation and mistrust in your neighbour, your colleague and your best friend can never result in a sustainable future for anyone. If I ever asked a Hutu teenager or Tutsi Grandfather why there is such tension and even hatred, I would probably get thousands of reasons why the blame lies with the other side.

The Hutu population is 85 per cent and the Tutsi population is 15 per cent. Many people have argued that the former colonial territories of Belgium where ethnicity was marked with identity cards and where the Tutsi community were favoured as elite caused a longstanding ethnic competition and heightened tension. However some people believe that the ethnic tension has been around pre-colonialism.  Distinction and competition has always been a part of the culture in Burundi; it was just made official through colonialism. The roots of the animosity and built-up tension cannot be pin-pointed to one moment in history; just like a failing marriage searching for reasons under the air of disappointment and anger. What is clear is the past is creeping into the present in a disturbing way.

Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world; with extreme poverty, lack of law and order and human rights violations remain constant barriers to development and stability in the region.

The conflict in Northern Ireland, which has killed thousands, came to a ceasefire after the IRA and Loyalists negotiated and signed the ‘Good Friday’ agreement in 1998. The Irish people were living in a conflict area but through power sharing were able to find peace.  The cynical side of me however believes that civil-war in Burundi benefits politicians and an elite minority in the country. Unless this small elite are given real incentive to change the tide, lasting peace supported by strong government may allude another generation of children.

As Nelson Mandela once, said: “It must be possible for the people of Burundi to materially distinguish between the destructiveness of conflict and the benefits of peace.”

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