Stereotypes and prejudices lead to a stigmatizing language that sows hatred and discord, calls into question the living together of communities. For Arthémon Nduwimana, specialist in business law and university professor, the latter cause mistrust and hinder regional integration.

The countries of the Great Lakes and East Africa are accelerating their regional integration. The latter does not escape the prejudices or stereotypes maintained by certain communities against others. “Our communities maintain them vis-à-vis other East African communities. This prevents you from discovering the other. In the context of regional integration, stereotypes and prejudices can hinder or slow down the process” , explains Arthémon Nduwimana, specialist in business law.

According to him, a prejudice is a preconceived opinion, often imposed by the medium, the time and the education. It all starts with simple images, observations, erroneous perceptions, gratuitous assertions. And this ends up setting up ideas accepted without proof. Unfounded clichés that lead to discrimination and demonization.

At the beginning of April, girls of Burundian and Rwandan origin were victims of stereotypes and prejudices. In the Goma and Bukavu provinces, these girls, most of whom work in bars, nightclubs, terraces, hotels, etc., have been accused of transmitting HIV/AIDS. “The presence of girls of Burundian and Rwandan origin is a danger to public health. Bukavians and Gomatracians must be very careful. Death circulates in our two cities. Our authorities must protect us ,” says Congolese columnist James Mukeshaba on his blog.

The reaction of civil society was quick. “This kind of message threatens social cohesion between communities in the sub-region who already live in mistrust,” denounced Grace Maroy, coordinator of Mwanamke Kesho, an association for the defense of women’s rights.

Drivers of conflict in the region

The study entitled “Les Mots Qui Tuent” carried out in 2007 by the Network of Regional Analysts, RAN and International Alert shows an overview of the most widespread prejudices and stereotypes between the Burundian, Rwandan and Congolese communities.

The Congolese are perceived as forgers, liars, womanizers, partygoers, not serious, etc. Burundians are thus described as dangerous, vindictive and hypocritical, etc. Rwandans are pretentious, contemptuous, bad and unscrupulous etc.

“The violent conflicts that have marked Burundi, Rwanda and the Kivu provinces over the past fifty years have most often been caused by discrimination and economic, social and political exclusion. In the worst cases, people’s extreme intolerance of a different ethnic identity has manifested itself in massacres and acts of genocide ,” the study concludes.

According to Arthémon Nduwimana, the absence of frank inter-community communication is the main factor in the reproduction of inter-community mistrust. The social construction of these stereotypes has harmful effects, affecting several areas and calling into question regional integration. A cultural rapprochement, he says, would allow members of diverse communities to communicate and thus break down barriers and walls of mistrust.

It calls on the government, the media, and other stakeholders in the field of regional integration to multiply their efforts by accelerating the harmonization of teaching programs, by intensifying cultural and sports exchanges, training and awareness-raising on culture East African.

Source: IWACU Burundi

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