For those of you who have been following my personal Facebook (or who follow African current events in general) you know about the deterioration of the situation in Burundi. The UN has debated sending in a peacekeeping force, and that proposition has been turned down. Considering that peacekeepers in places like the Central African Republic and Haiti have wreaked havoc (the former out of venality and the latter out of sheer incompetence) maybe that isn’t such a horrible thing. But it increases the sense of isolation in the country. If not UN troops, who? The sympathies of the local authorities are divided between the party in power, the old coup faction and everyone-for-themselves. Belgian or French troops? God no. Rwandans? They would take over the place. Chinese, Americans or some other multinational force besides the UN? Can’t see it. An African Union or regional peacekeeping force? Maybe, but as far as I know that is not on the table yet so god knows when or if it will happen. Who will keep order– neighbourhood gangs? The economy is in collapse and of my few friends who had stable jobs at the start of the conflict and didn’t flee, most of the jobs have ceased to exist. The Burundi I lived in was a place where, economically, most people lived on a knife edge, but socially, there was peace. We laughed and joked about ethnicity, politics, religion and even the secret police. Now everything is too real again– “la crise” has reared its ugly head. And watching all this from my cozy kitchen in Winnipeg raises in me the worst feeling of suffocating powerlessness. Nadège lost her job as a teacher for an NGO-run school when the NGO cut and run. Dieudonné and Pierre and his brothers are getting by on odd jobs in Kigali. Émilie is in a camp in Tanzania, Loud Michel is somewhere in Kampala, Mohamed left the north and came to Buja, only he knows why, and can no longer sleep through the night. Maman Pierre is still almost alone in once-safe Nyakabiga– her adult children have all fled to safer places and even Pierre’s baby brother is being raised by his big sister across town.
Most of my colleagues from the radio have fled to Rwanda, except for four or five people, who I can only call heroes among heroes, doing their job at great risk with no guarantee of pay. My colleague, Blaise Ndihokubwayo, who taught me everything I now know about investigative reporting, whose big soft eyes and silly sense of humour belied his intelligence, who was the newsroom peacemaker and panic-stopper, who parlayed his gifts for building a rapport with people and connecting the dots of a story into an impressive career as an investigative reporter– was taken into custody of the secret police (link in French) twice in the past week and a half. They caught him as he was coming home from work, picked him up, roughed him up, denied him food and eventually let him go– twice. Like mean kids torturing a mouse. His only crime, as far as anyone can tell, is working illegally for a radio (link in French) that was shut down illegally to begin with– if they have anything else on him, it remains a mystery to us.
This clique will stop at nothing. They have even financially asphyxiated an orphanage (link in French) that has helped thousands of young people over 20 years, because its founder, the widely respected Marguerite Barankitse (link in French, oversimplification alert during initial voiceover but please, please listen), has spoken out against the regime. Yes, that’s right, attempting to starve hundreds orphaned kids in order to score petty, vengeful points against one woman. It is too pathetic for words.
Do something. Share this post, share another post, write to your foreign minister or Secretary of State or UN representative. This cannot continue.