*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Burundi beset by climate of fear as election approaches

26 June 2015

AP

Protesting: demonstrators march in opposition to a third term for President Nkurunziza, in the rural area of Mugongomanga, east of the capital, Bujumbura, on 10 June 

Protesting: demonstrators march in opposition to a third term for President Nkurunziza, in the rural area of Mugongomanga, east of the capital,...

RUMOURS and fear abound in the run-up to the elections in Burundi, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, reported this week.

During a 48-hour visit earlier this month, he heard of fears about the youth militia, "which appears heavily armed", but also of the police's taking people away at night, and of torture in police and prison cells. There is anxiety, too, about a return to the civil war that ended in 2003.

"One bishop described Burundi as no longer the land of a thousand hills but the land of a thousand rumours," the Bishop wrote in a report last week. "Rumours circulate like wildfire, even with the closing down of social media. Unbelievable things have already happened, so why not believe more unbelievable rumours?"

Parliamentary elections are due to take place next Monday. The Presidential election has been pushed back to 15 July, after protests over the decision by the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza, to stand for a third term (News, 15 May). Since early April, nearly 100,000 Burundians have fled across the borders.

Last week, the UN special rapporteur Pablo de Greiff decried Burundi's "blatant failures to respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly", and warned of the "increased manipulation of ethnicity in the country".

On Monday, Bishop Butler spoke of seeing roads "green with broken glass", and the difficulty of ascertaining whether empty houses belonged to those who had fled or been arrested.

Some have left after selling goods for only about 15 per cent of their real value. The universities are closed, and he saw hundreds of students sleeping rough opposite the United States embassy compound. There is a "deep fear about a developing food crisis" and inflation is rising, he said.

In a climate of fear, the leaders of the Anglican Church were "providing calm and stability", he said. The young Christians he met were "all passionate about wanting to serve Christ fully; staying put because they love their nation and believe it can have a hopeful future".

Many churches have established 24/7 prayer chains. Independent radio stations have been forced off the air; the Christian stations are "regularly putting out programmes talking about peace, promoting and encouraging all Burundians to work for the good of the nation, not self-interest or power".

Bishop Butler has shared his findings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who encouraged his trip.

"Burundi is one of the very poorest, least significant nations on earth. This is exactly why in God's economy it really matters," the Bishop said.

Train-a-Priest Fund 2021 Appeal

Please consider a donation to TAP Africa this Lent. Every penny you can give goes to ordinands in Africa who face financial difficulty, to support them as they complete their training. 

Donate online

Read more about this year's appeal

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)