Tag: Burundi

Burundi: key facts about a troubled country

A Burundian soldier casts his ballot at a polling station in Bujumbura. (Pic: AFP)
A Burundian soldier casts his ballot at a polling station in Bujumbura. (Pic: AFP)

The small, landlocked African country of Burundi holds parliamentary and local elections on Monday after weeks of unrest, recalling its long history of conflict and ethnic massacres.

Opposition parties are boycotting elections – including a presidential vote due July 15 – saying that it is not possible to hold a fair vote.

The African Union has said it will not act as observer to the elections over fears the polls will not be credible.

Over 70 people have been killed in weeks of street protests that erupted after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office.

Those protests were brutally suppressed, triggering an exodus of around 127,000 into neighbouring countries.

Ethnic divisions

Tensions between Burundi’s ethnic Hutu majority – some 85 percent of the 10 million population – and the Tutsi minority have boiled over repeatedly since independence from colonial ruler Belgium in 1962.

In 1972, a failed Hutu-led uprising against Tutsi-dominated rulers sparked a wave of massacres.

Later, the 1993 assassination of the first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, triggered a civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels that lasted until 2006 despite several peace deals.

Today, the fault lines are no longer simply ethnic – both Nkurunziza and his main rival Agathon Rwasa are Hutus. However, old divisions remain.

Economic frustration

Burundi – which lies in the Great Lakes region – is one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. Farming forms the backbone of the economy, with key exports of coffee and tea.

Manufacturing is underdeveloped, and the country suffers from a poor transportation network and government corruption that stifles the private sector.

The nation is green and fertile, but more than two thirds of the population live below the poverty line, with a gross average national income of just $260 (240 euros).

World Bank data put 2013 gross domestic product at $2.7 billion.

Constitutional challenge

Nkurunziza was first voted in by parliament in 2005, as part of the peace process to end the 1993-2006 civil war. In 2010 he was re-elected, this time by the people.

Opponents say a third term would violate the constitution and jeopardise deals that ended civil war that stipulated presidents cannot rule for more than a decade.

Nkurunziza’s supporters refute that, saying the constitution overrules earlier agreements, and states leaders can rule for two terms after elections by “direct universal suffrage”.

Militia forces

The international community has repeatedly warned of a risk of violence, with rival parties growing increasingly radical.

The United Nations has said is particularly worried about the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, a fearsome group whose name means “The Watchmen” or, literally, “Those Who See Far”.

The Imbonerakure are accused of being a militia force by the UN, carrying out a string of attacks.

Coup or no coup, here are 8 things you should know about Burundi

People celebrate in the streets of Bujumbura on May 13 2015 following the radio announcement that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. (Pic: AFP)
People celebrate in the streets of Bujumbura on May 13 2015 following the radio announcement that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. (Pic: AFP)

A top Burundian general launched a coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza on Wednesday, bringing to a head weeks of violent protests against the president’s bid to stand for a third term.

General Godefroid Niyombare, a powerful former intelligence chief who was sacked earlier in the year, announced via a private radio station that the president had been overthrown hours after he left for neighbouring Tanzania for talks with regional leaders.

The presidency, however, said in a brief message on Twitter that the coup had “failed”. Pro-Nkurunziza troops were still in control of key institutions including the presidential palace and state broadcaster, witnesses said, and fired warning shots to stop demonstrators from marching on the state television and radio building.

Over 20 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls. The clashes between security forces and demonstrators have raised fears of a return to widespread violence in Burundi, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006 and which left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

Whichever way the crisis ends, there are a couple of things worth knowing about Burundi:

1. It’s becoming a good place to set up a business! Since 2012, it has been possible to register a new business in the country in one day, and for less than $30. The country has made major gains on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking and is now regarded as one of the world’s star economic reformers. This year it placed 140th, from 157th in the 2013 ranking. It has notably jumped 72 places in the ease of registering property, and also made gains in the trading across borders indicator.

2. Urban beaches. Lonely Planet says that Bujumbura’s Lake Tanganyika beaches are some of the best urban beaches of any landlocked country in Africa.The stretch of beach that lies about 5km northwest of the capital is the most beautiful and used to be known as Plage des Cocotiers (Coconut Beach).

Bujumbura beach. (Pic: Flickr / Michael Foley)

3. Burundi was the first country, along with Sierra Leone, to be put on the agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission. It was stablished in 2006, to ensure that countries once ravaged by war do not relapse into bloodshed. Burundi has seen 40 years of armed violence and civil war since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962. The conflicts, rooted in political and historical tensions between the ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority populations, have killed more than 300,000 people.

4. The country is developing a Bujumbura City Master Plan to counter population growth and the attendant pressure on public utilities. Its partners on the project, that would bring in order to a cluttered environment, include the United Nations Development Program, and Singapore. The country is also looking to link the capital city to Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa to make it easier to trade, using a 1,545km corridor.

5. Burundi was the first country in the East African Community to issue e-Passports.  The country introduced the new biometric passport in March 2011.

6. Burundi is one of the most youthful countries in the world. In 2014, with an estimated 45.7% of the population under the age of 15, Burundi comes in 7th in world rankings.

Children play football in Bujumbura on March 19 2015. (Pic: AFP)
Children play football in Bujumbura on March 19 2015. (Pic: AFP)

7. Even though it’s a landlocked country, fishing is a very important sector representing about 1% of the GDP. Fisheries in Burundi are dominated by Lake Tanganyika which it shares with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia. The waters under the jurisdiction of Burundi make up about 8% of the lake and are restricted to the northern coastline.

8. Burundi is one of the most attractive African markets for telecoms investors. Mobile penetration is at around 33% (mid-2014), standing at only about half the regional average – lots of room to grow.

This post was first published on MG Africa. 

Brace your wallet, Burundi’s celebration season is here

The sky is clearing, temperatures are rising, mud is turning into dust, the air is becoming more humid and mosquitoes have multiplied. Burundi’s dry season is here. Students all over the country are preparing for their exams and Burundians all over the world are shopping and getting ready to come home for the holidays. It’s that time of the year: the season of imanza.

Imanza (the plural of urubanza) refers to functions and ceremonies like weddings, memorials, house warmings, birthday parties, barbecues … any kind of celebration really, good or bad.

I already know of at least seven imanza I’m potentially invited to or in which I’m likely to have some kind of responsibility. There are no wedding planners in Burundi or planners of anything really – when a person has an urubanza they call on their relatives and closest friends to help with the planning and organisation, and to contribute in cash or kind or both. Traditionally, when somebody invites you to an urubanza you go to your fields, chop your best bananas or sorghum and make some banana or sorghum wine that you would offer to the host on their big day – kind of like bringing your own drinks. In some circumstances, other goods or services may be offered such as assistance in the fields to a family mourning the death of a loved one. They aren’t allowed to do any work for at least a week after the burial, a period which is concluded with a ceremony known as Guca ku Mazi.

If you don’t happen to grow bananas or sorghum in your backyard, you give money. Then we’ll say that you brought your umubindi (pot of wine) in an envelope. Yes, Burundians are masters of poetry!

Invitations to an urubanza are pretty much seen as ‘requests to contribute’. The size of a contribution usually depends on the contributor’s income and their relationship to the host. An acquaintance wouldn’t be expected to contribute anything less than BIF 10 000 (about 7 USD) per urubanza; but contributions can go up to the hundreds of thousands of francs, especially if you have a close relationship with the host. The money may be paid before the actual event but in certain ceremonies envelopes are passed around for guests to put their contributions in.

Baskets of gifts from the family of the groom-to-be to the family of the bride-to-be at the dowry presentation ceremony. (Pic: Gwaga)
Baskets of gifts from the family of the groom-to-be to the family of the bride-to-be at the dowry presentation ceremony. (Pic: Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha)

If you don’t contribute you’re seen as antisocial. In fact, a person will not go to an urubanza but still send their envelope. That’s how much we Burundians value our social status! And that’s why it’s important to clearly write your name on your envelope so that when the host compiles a list of who contributed and how much, they’ll speak well of you to their entourage and eventually reciprocate at one of your functions in the future. When you don’t have money to give (for instance, you’re not employed) you can offer your “hands” – run errands, help with decor and serving etc.

Nobody usually complains about contributing when there are sad reasons for hosting an urubanza. In fact, everybody tries to help in some way or the other. But when it comes to happy events, there are quite a few free-riders who’ll schedule urubanza without any funds of their own, expecting to pay it off with eventual contributions from guests.

There’s this one guy I know who wants kuganduka for his parents killed during the 1993 war! Kuganduka is a ceremony which definitively concludes the one-year mourning period after a person’s death. Usually relatives are not supposed to hold any kind of ceremony if the mourning period for the deceased has not ended. Kuganduka is supposed to be the first happy celebration after this time, and usually involves thanking those who stood by the family during the difficult times.

Between 1993 to now, this guy got married twice and had kids. Is it unfair to assume that he’s probably broke and looking for an “honest” means to make some quick cash? But this won’t stop us from going to his urubanza and contributing – because we have to!

Then there are the school graduations, birthday parties and other social gatherings which often involve reconnecting with friends and family, especially those who are on holiday from abroad.

Traditional dancers entertaining guests at a wedding. (Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha)
Traditional dancers entertaining guests at a wedding. (Pic: Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha)

It’s that time of the year when we take our best outfits to the dry cleaners, go out shopping for new ones and start practising how to sign cheques. It’s that time of the year when invitations start flowing in and one has to decide which urubanza they are going to attend, because sometimes it’s just impossible to go to all of them.

I have two of my very good friends who are getting married on the same day. Whose urubanza will I go to? How will I explain my absence to the other? How much will I contribute? What will I wear? These are the questions Burundians start asking themselves around this time of the year until the rains start falling again in September, temperatures drop, students head back to school, the diaspora return to wherever they live, and all our bank accounts are empty thanks to our social generosity.

Karl-Chris Nsabiyumva is a proud Burundian. He blogs at misterburundi.wordpress.com