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