The National Olympic Committee (NOC) is a local branch of the International Olympic Committee. Its mission is to promote the Olympic Charter, to develop training facilities for athletes, and to encourage participation in competitive sports at different levels. Through this it aims to promote a culture of peace and the associated values of social development, friendship, dialogue, and interaction between different ethnic groups, nations and cultures.
Community Reconciliation through Sports and Culture
The brutal civil war that broke out in 1993 created sustained mistrust between Burundi's two main ethnic groups of Hutus and Tutsis. Tutsi people, including large numbers of civil servants, often fled to urban areas, while Hutu people felt safest in the countryside but could not access cities. Since 1994, the NOC has been creating opportunities for members of both groups to interact through sports and cultural events, encouraging reconciliation and dialogue.
In 1994, the NOC organised the first Olympic Meeting in Bujumbura, just a few months after violent conflict broke out. Over a week, more than 5,000 people were involved including officials, spectators, 300 athletes and 70 artists, many of them amateurs. The event allowed people from Bujumbura communes which were ethnically divided or devastated by the war to meet and take the first steps towards reconciliation.
In 1998, 1999 and 2001, the same event was organised in Mugamba, Gitega and Ngozi respectively. In these countryside areas, the events helped many Tutsi people living in Bujumbura return to their home villages and interact with Hutu people. Traditional music groups also performed and were broadcast nationally on radio and TV, helping build a sense of national community. On the fringe of these sports and cultural activities, participants had the opportunity to attend seminars and take part in debates on peacebuilding.
An estimated 20,000 people have taken part in the events. Olympic Meetings have helped break down fear and mistrust between rival communities. The first event, particularly, was a major achievement, given the extreme violence of the time and the fragmentation of Bujumbura communes along ethnic lines. Participants found that the activities could bridge ethnic divides; far from simply improving health and strength, sport can also promote crucial values such as the importance of dialogue and interaction.