BURUNDIANS went to the polls on Tuesday, in a presidential election boycotted by the Opposition, and without the participation of 145,000 people who have fled what the UN has described as “targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror”.
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called for all parties to “refrain from any acts of violence that could compromise the stability of Burundi and the region”.
On Tuesday morning, however, Reuters reported that blasts and gunfire were heard around the capital, Bujumbura. The body of a known opposition supporter was found in a ditch.
Civil unrest began in April, after the President, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he would stand for a third term, which was deemed unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, signed in August 2000, which ended a decade of civil war (News, 15 May). Every main opposition party has boycotted the election.
Last week, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned that the international community “must not simply stand by and wait for mass atrocities to unfold”. It has documented “outright repression against, and intimidation of, the population at large, the instrumentalisation of the police, the closure of independent media, as well as the detention of the opposition and other civic leaders.”
Armed militias, with the collaboration of authorities, had perpetrated “targeted violence against civilians”, it said. Peacful protests had been met with “lethal force”.
Parliamentary elections were held last month, resulting in a victory for President Nkurunziza’s party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy. The UN Election Observation Mission declared that the environment was “not conducive for free, credible and inclusive elections”.
More than 169,000 people have fled Burundi since April. Médecins Sans Frontières reported this month that 7000 people were arriving every week at Nyarugusu refugee camp, in Tanzania, which was now hosting nearly 80,000 Burundians, in addition to its existing 64,000 Congolese refugees.
World Vision UK’s senior conflict adviser, Sarah Pickwick, who has just returned from the camp, said: “The conditions on the ground are dire. There’s been a huge strain on health and water services, with limited sleeping spaces.”
The OHCHR forecasts that 150,000 more people could still flee Burundi. Only 13 per cent of its £207-million appeal for the entire regional crisis, launched in May, has been met.
Pastor John Bosco Kwizera is in charge of Emerge Poverty Free projects in Gitega, the second largest city in Burundi. He fled Burundi at the end of April with his family, and now lives in Kigali. His parents were hacked to death with a machete when he was 15, during the civil war in Burundi in 1993. He spoke to Nicholas Milton, a trustee of Emerge Poverty Free
IN GITEGA, I run the African Revival Ministries centre, and so I am a high-profile figure. As a result of the unrest, I was told by friends that my life was in danger; so I had to flee quickly. I left in my vehicle with my wife and four children. My youngest, our daughter, was just one month old. The others are boys, and are aged seven, five, and three. I had to leave most of my life possessions behind.
I set up a home for street children and a health centre in Gitega. When I fled, the children were still at the home, and they are still there now, because they believe it is a safe place. They are concerned, however, that their families may flee, and they could get separated from them; so they are very upset.
More people than ever are coming to the health centre because of the political situation. We are struggling to help everybody. We are having to ration medicines because of the number of people coming from the capital, Bujumbura, which has seen a lot of violence.
Leaving all the children was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I cried so much, and I had to pray hard that I was making the right decision. I prayed to God that I would get to Rwanda safely. When I was escaping, they told me not to use my car, but I had no other way of getting my family out. My children had no passports.
He answered my prayers, because the Rwandan police let me through, and we all arrived safely. I had very little money when I arrived; so I rented a cheap empty house. But people in Kigali have been really generous, and I have been given a cooker, TV, and mattresses. Now I pray every day for peace, the children, and the staff in the centre.
I would love to go back after the presidential election, but that depends on what happens afterwards. I miss everyone, especially the children. My wife, who is a doctor, has also had to give up her job, and my children miss their school. I pray, one day it will be safe for all of us to go back home.