Deceptive calm in Burundi

The international community is keeping a close watch on Burundi. The UN, African Union and the European Union have all warned that political division threatens to create a deep and violent regional crisis in the East African state. Some observers speak of “possible genocide” as the conflict which erupted after the controversial re-election of President Nkurunziza continues.
Hardly a night goes by without the sound of gunfire and the discovery of bodies dumped on the street. The government and the opposition blame each other for the attacks.
During the daytime the situation is generally calm in the center of the capital Bujumbura. The shops are open, there are the usual traffic jams and street vendors sell their wares. No one wants to talk openly about the the situation for fear of possible consequences. Heavily armed police are to be seen on every corner.
The situation is different in the district of Mutakura in north Bujumbura. People entering have to pass several police checkpoints and cars are searched thoroughly. People are worried rather than reassured by this, says resident Pascal Toyi. “We don’t have security here, we cannot go to work. The shops are closed, young people stay at home, because it is not safe.”
Mutakura is a stronghold of opponents of President Nkurunziza. For weeks residents fought violent street battles against the police. Many have since left the area. There is a heavy police presence but some people are willing to talk – in sidestreets or when no one is looking. “The government will be replaced, we are nobody, but we will achieve that,” one woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told DW. “Prices in the market have increased and people are starving, that’s why we want peace,” her neighbor added. “We are happy that there has been no violence for a while now,” says resident Removat Musabiko. He says people are starting to come back. But he doesn’t believe peace will prevail without negotiations.

Government silencing opponents
Aline Nkurunziza also lives in Mutakura. She has had to bring up her children alone since her husband was arrested in early October. Police raided their home and threw her husband into jail. “I don’t know what he is accused of,” Aline complains. Since he was taken away, she can no longer go to work and this has consequences for the family. “I cannot pay the school fees, my children have been kicked out of school,” she said. The family doesn’t have enough to eat. Many people have been arrested for their involvement in the protests. Opponents of the government are deliberately targeted. The activities of civil society have been restricted and some NGOs have been banned from operating.
Denis Ndayishemeza is only prepared to speak in a secret location without witnesses. He is the vice-president of the NGO Focode which was closed down in late November. Ndayishemeza told DW, “We will continue to say that we oppose a third term in office for Pierre Nkurunziza That it is illegal and illegitimate.”

UN shelves plans to send troops
Ndayishemeza regrets a change of plan by the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers to Burundi. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended a UN support team should first be sent to give impetus to political dialogue between the government and the opposition. NGO representative Ndayihemeza says, “the UN needs to do something as quickly as possible. If they don’t send peacekeepers to stand between the police and people in order to stop the killings, they will regret it later.”
When nights falls in Bujumbura, fear accompanies Aline Nkurunziza and her children when they go to bed. “We are afraid that we might be attacked again by the police or other people. I pray that we will soon find peace in Burundi, ” she says.
In November, the United States imposed sanctions on four current and former Burundian officials, citing reports of targeted killings, arbitrary arrests and torture. At least 240 people have been killed since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, a move that sparked a failed military coup. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 200,000 people have fled the country since the violence began.

Author: Jesko Johannsen/jn

Editor: Susan Houlton

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Posted by on Dec 15 2015. Filed under African News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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