Africa University Alumni Lead and Inspire in Burundi

Zephirin Ndikumana,  AU graduate and conference lay leader for the Burundi Annual Conference in a meeting.
Zephirin Ndikumana, AU graduate and conference lay leader for the Burundi Annual Conference in a meeting.

The graduates of Africa University who call the East African Community home are relatively few. They number less than 50, spread out across six nations—Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Yet, their contributions are helping to unify, revitalize and grow congregations.

When Africa University opened its doors in 1992, Zephirin Ndikumana left his native Burundi to study agriculture there.

In 1994, Burundi was engulfed in civil unrest. Learning of the deteriorating security and political situation in Zephirin’s homeland, Africa University offered refuge in Zimbabwe. In the Faculty of Agriculture, Zephirin served as a science laboratory technician (1995-2010). He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in agriculture from AU.

“Africa University,” Zephirin said, “offered me a learning opportunity and good preparation to handle church and life challenges. Among the greatest gifts is Vivian Johnson Ndikumana, the life partner I met on campus. We fell in love in 1997 and got married two years later. God blessed us with two children,” daughter Rosette Donate, now 17, and son René Nathaniel, 13.

While the couple was in Zimbabwe, The United Methodist Church in Burundi experienced a leadership crisis. Daniel A. Wandabula was elected bishop in 2006, and the church divided.

 “The rift resulted in a complete separation,” Zephirin said. When the former leader’s term ended in 2017, the Rev. Jean Ntahoturi, an Africa University graduate, was elected to replace him as church legal representative. Zephirin, who with his family had returned to Burundi, was appointed conference lay leader.

“We made a team that was favorable to church reconciliation,” Zephirin said. “Ntahoturi declared the spirit of oneness. Church reunification was our priority.”

In August 2017, Ntahoturi, Zephirin and representatives of Bankurunaze’s group met in Harare with Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, chair of the United Methodist Standing Committee on Conference Matters. They all signed a memorandum of understanding that signaled a new era for the Burundi Annual Conference.

Zephirin said that his absence from Burundi during the church turmoil put him at an advantage during the reconciliation process. “I spoke of unity with boldness, and no church member had any grudge with me because I was not part of the various physical and verbal confrontations that took place during the time of disharmony.”

As conference Christian education director, Vivian Ndikumanas has a key role as well by helping The United Methodist Church in Burundi to enhance it evangelism capacity as it moves worward an objective of doubling its membership. At the United Methodist Theological Training College in Burundi, she is a lecturer, dean of students and chaplain. Zephirin oversees administration and finance; Ntahoturi serves as academic dean; and Patrice Nduwimana is dean of admissions and registrar.

The Ndikumanas believe they have reason to be optimistic about the future.

Barbara Dunlap-Berg, retired from United Methodist Communications, freelance writer and editor

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Africa University Fund transforms Africa by educating and empowering students from across the continent through Africa University, the first fully accredited, United Methodist-related educational institution on the continent. The Africa University Fund supports the general operating expenses of Africa University including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Africa University Fund at 100 percent.