SOUTH AFRICA, Sarah-Leah Pimentel •
For some time there has been a growing unease in Burundi. Lauded as a success story in the mid-90s for emerging from a bloody civil war into peace time democracy, Burundi’s golden fairytale has come to an end. A few months ago, the first whispers that not all was well in the small country began to surface. The whispers became rumours, rumour became fear, fear brought back memories of the dark days of war and ethnic tensions. The first few people began to leave the country and headed to neighbouring Rwanda, DRC, and Tanzania.
Refugees of fear
It seemed that time had stopped in Burundi, as people waited for what would happen next. The problem – this is an election year. The constitution states that the president can only run for two terms. Many people feel that Pierre Nkurunziza has had his time in office. Appealing to a technicality in the constitution, the president argues that he can still run for one more term in late June.
On 26 April, residents of the capital, Bujumbura, came out to protest what they consider an illegal third term. Within days, streets all around the city were barricaded and a kind of war ensued between the police and the protestors. The army then turned up acting as a kind of buffer between the people and the police, adding to the tensions. Meanwhile, the number of refugees climbed to 10,000, then 20,000 and by early last week, nearly 3,000 people a day were leaving the country, fearing a violent and possibly ethnic conflict.
A failed coup
Then on 13 May, the president travelled to Tanzania to meet with regional leaders in search of a solution to the tensions. An army general took advantage of the president’s absence and staged a coup. This divided the army. A military battle began for control of the state broadcaster. Whoever controls the radio station, controls the country. But it was also necessary to stop the flow of communication and so, by late afternoon on 14 May almost all the private broadcasters had been attacked, burnt down, and their equipment smashed. Miraculously, the Catholic radio station, Radio Maria, is still broadcasting.
A day later, the army faction loyal to the president was able to restore order, the coup was crushed and the president returned. To discourage any further dissent, government forces have clamped down on all private media, civil society activists, the faction of the army that sided with the coup leader, and the protestors have been classified almost as traitors. There is a massive crackdown underway in Bujumbura. On 19 May, the police opened fire on protestors and the soldiers trying to protect them.
And so the number of refugees increases. The UN said that by 18 May, more than 105,000 Burundians had crossed the borders. Cholera has broken out at one of the refugee camps in Tanzania. Rwanda is worried about the political effects of absorbing thousands of refugees. There are fears of a looming famine.
There is a conflict brewing in Burundi and it seems that things can only get worst, not better. Unless we look at what is happening with the eyes of faith.
May there be hands of solidarity
Let us unite in prayer and ask for our Blessed Mother — who has set up her home in the Shrines in Burundi — to protect the children of this injured land that has seen so much bloodshed over the last few decades. May the Holy Spirit guide regional leaders to help Burundi to find a peaceful solution. May there be hands of solidarity to reach out to the many displaced people who have left their homes in fear of a possible massacre. Let us pray for a miracle that the tensions will not escalate into an ethnic conflict.
Let us pray and act in covenant solidarity with the people of this Great Lakes country.
Let us not get lost in the hopelessness of the faceless thousands who have been displaced or those in the seat of power who are not listening to the the signs of the times. Instead let us consecrate each individual person whose life has been affected by this drama to our Mother and Queen, who will always reign victorious.
We are Burundi.