Anesie Hakizimana has had her house destroyed four times since the start of Burundi’s civil war in 1993. At 54, the mother of four has been displaced by fresh clashes and her house has been looted again.
“I was told my home was looted by soldiers. I’m tired, I’m so tired ... Just let politicians give us peace, then we will always survive because we have arms to use,” she said.
Thousands of civilians like Hakizimana have been displaced in recent weeks by a new surge of fighting between government troops and the small central African nation’s last rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL).
Dozens have been killed in clashes that have centered mainly around the capital Bujumbura, shattering a 2006 ceasefire deal and further undermining efforts to complete the implementation of an ailing peace process.
In one of the world’s most under-developed countries, civilians are again caught in the middle of the power game between an autocratic regime and a rebellion that has little to lose.
Back on the all-too-familiar road of war and displacement, displaced residents flank the road leading out of Bujumbura and to the town of Kabezi, with nothing to their name, exposed to the scorching sun.
“There are between 6,000 and 8,000 civilians here who fled the fighting that pitted on Monday the FNL against soldiers in the nearby hills of Rugembe, Kivomo, Gitenga and Mubone,” local official Tharcisse Ndabaruhiye said.
From afar, the lush green hills covered in banana plantations are still and quiet, but still harbor the memory of a brutal war that left an estimated 300,000 dead in 14 years.
“We are tired, we are all so fed up with this war that never ends,” said Cassien Ndiwenumuryango, a 56-year-old father of six.
“We had been so hopeful when the government and Palipehutu-FNL signed their ceasefire agreement and we saw a gradual return of security. We had started believing in it, at long last,” says the aging farmer.
“They really no longer have a reason to fight,” he said.
The Palipehutu is the political wing of the FNL, one of the main rebel groups from the Hutu majority that fought against a once Tutsi-dominated regime. The government is now dominated by Hutus, albeit shared between the two ethnic groups.
As Cassien speaks of the latest bout of fighting that kicked off on April 17, displaced Burundians sitting around nod in agreement.
“The FNL always told us they were fighting for the Hutus against the Tutsis. Now those who are in power are Hutus and they also went through a period of armed rebellion,” says Anesie, a frail woman but not shy to take a swipe at the main protagonists.
“The government and the FNL are no longer fighting for us, they are at each other’s throats because of their own personal petty interests,” she said.
“They should be sitting down together and agreeing on how to share power,” she said. “As you see us here, we are Hutus and we are the main victims of this latest fighting.”
Samuel Ntabaririrwa is 48 and a father of five. He feels powerless and puts his fate in the hands “of divine justice because the Almighty is the only one who can save this country.”
“Look at us, poor farmers most of us, who don’t have a say in this country,” he said, adding that the poorest always end up on the wrong end of someone’s knife.
“If you don’t obey the FNL, you’re accused of being a traitor and killed,” he said.