Excerpts: The Blood Cries Out
The vast majority of Burundians rely on subsistence farming, but under the weight of a booming population and in the long-standing absence of coherent policies governing land ownership, many people barely have enough earth to sustain themselves. Steve McDonald, who has worked on a reconciliation project in Burundi with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, estimates that in 1970 the average farm was probably between nine and 12 acres. Today, that number has shrunk to just over one acre. The consequence is remarkable scarcity: In the 2013 Global Hunger Index, Burundi had the severest hunger and malnourishment rates of all 120 countries ranked. “As the land gets chopped into smaller and smaller pieces,” McDonald says, “the pressure intensifies.”
This pressure has led many people who want land, like Alphonse years ago, to take matters into their own hands-at times violently. The United Nations estimates that roughly 85 percent of disputes pending in Burundian courts pertain to land. Between 2013 and 2014, incidents of arson and attempted murder related to land conflict rose 19 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Violence sometimes occurs within families, but it also can play out between ethnic groups: Most returning refugees are Hutu, but the land they left behind has often been purchased by Tutsis. “The land issue comes into politics when parties say, ‘I promise to return to you what is rightfully yours,'” says Thierry Uwamahoro, a Burundian political analyst based in the Washington, D.C., area.
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