Colonization and evangelization : power dynamics and ethnicity in the development of the Catholic indigenous clergy in Burundi under the Belgian colonial administration (1916-1961).
Jean Pierre Chrétien argues: “The Great Lakes of Africa is a crucial region for historical research not only because its history is particularly fascinating but also because the tragedies of its present are very much a function of the political manipulations of its past.”1 This statement is suitable politically, in reference to the effects of the colonization but, to some extent, it also stands religiously, in reference to the missionary activity in the Great Lakes region of which Burundi is part. In this study I postulate that the development of the Burundian Catholic indigenous clergy was influenced by the manipulations of colonization. The power dynamics around the ethnic issue occurring in the Burundian colonial period, especially during the Belgian administration, changed Burundian society with regard to the relations that existed among Burundians. The interaction of the colonizers, especially, the Belgian administrators, with the missionaries played a big role, as noted by an analyst: “The Belgian administrators in Burundi were favourably disposed toward missionaries, because of their assumption that colonial goals could be more easily realized in a society embracing Christian, social and moral principles.”2 However, in promoting these principles the European man did not respect the socio-economic and culture differences existing between Burundian people, as far as ethnic groups were concerned. Instead the European man imposed an ideology which totally changed the social relations between Burundian people resulting in a conflict of identities. Unfortunately, the training of the Burundian Catholic indigenous clergy started during this period of social confusion created by the European ideology. This may partly explain the ethnic inequalities that characterised the development of this clergy throughout the colonial period, the period around the independence, and even today. Solutions for getting out of this state of affairs are not easy to design in such a short study. All I can suggest is that the Burundian Catholic Church leaders should reflect on the historical legacies of both colonizers and missionaries in order to allow the Burundian clergy to rediscover where they come from, where they are now and most importantly how they have got there. This would enable them moving forward.