Institute of Development Policy

PhD defence Antea Paviotti

Antea Paviotti kindly invites you to her public doctoral defence on Friday 17 September at 5pm.

“Us” and “them”: reciprocal perceptions and interactions between amoko in contemporary Burundi

PhD thesis

Antea Paviotti

Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa are Burundi’s three amoko (sing. ubwoko), and are usually referred to as “ethnicities” or “ethnic groups”. Open violence between Hutu and Tutsi has existed in this country since independence (1962). Major episodes of violence took place in 1965, 1969, 1972, 1988, and in 1993 a civil war broke out that lasted several years. In 2000, the signing of the Arusha peace agreement inaugurated a transition period towards the adoption of a new Constitution and the democratic election of a new president, which took place in 2005. The peace agreement institutionalised the presence of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa at every level of the state institutions, which allowed for the “de-ethnicisation” of political competition. In the absence of open violence, average citizens could gradually return to their occupations, though the consequences of past conflict remained to be dealt with. In the absence of alternatives, most people adopted practices of “everyday peace” in daily life, in order to be able to live side-by-side with those who had perpetrated violence. Under these circumstances, the salience of belonging to a specific ubwoko seemed to have progressively reduced. In 2015, the late President Nkurunziza presented his candidacy for a third term, despite the fact that only two presidential terms were allowed by the 2005 Constitution. This sparked unprecedented street protests in Burundi’s then capital city, while hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country and the repression of the protests caused several hundred deaths. During the violence, references to the ubwoko and to past violence appeared more frequently in political discourse, which raised the question of the increased relevance of the ubwoko as an overarching identity marker.

Adopting a boundary-making approach, my PhD research aims at understanding how Burundians today define themselves and the others − “us” and “them” − and how salient the ubwoko is in the identification of in-groups and out-groups. In different research sites, each characterised by specific space and time dimensions (colonial literature on Burundi, contemporary Burundi, and the Burundian Twittersphere), I analyse processes of boundary making and remaking between “us” and “them”, focusing on perceptions and interactions between amoko in order to better understand the salience of this belonging. Analysis conducted in different research sites allowed me to build a more complete understanding of the dynamics of group making, and of the factors making group belonging more or less salient in contemporary Burundi. This type of analysis is of interest to scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners who also work on, or in, other conflict-affected societies. In addition, the innovative application of this type of analysis to the virtual reality of Twitter is of particular relevance in the contemporary age of social media.