The Trouble That's Brewing In Burundi

The Trouble That's Brewing In Burundi

12:35am Jun 10, 2015
The coffin of Theogene Niyondiko, who was shot dead by police during an opposition demonstration last Friday, is carried in Burundi's capital Bujumbura on Tuesday. Protesters have been demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza, who plans to run fo
The coffin of Theogene Niyondiko, who was shot dead by police during an opposition demonstration last Friday, is carried in Burundi's capital Bujumbura on Tuesday. Protesters have been demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza, who plans to r
Gildas Ngingo/AP
  • The coffin of Theogene Niyondiko, who was shot dead by police during an opposition demonstration last Friday, is carried in Burundi's capital Bujumbura on Tuesday. Protesters have been demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza, who plans to run fo

    The coffin of Theogene Niyondiko, who was shot dead by police during an opposition demonstration last Friday, is carried in Burundi's capital Bujumbura on Tuesday. Protesters have been demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza, who plans to r

    Gildas Ngingo/AP

  • Refugees who fled Burundi's violence and political tension board a speedboat to reach a ship on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, on May 23. Some 100,000 refugees have fled Burundi for neighboring countries in recent months.

    Refugees who fled Burundi's violence and political tension board a speedboat to reach a ship on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, on May 23. Some 100,000 refugees have fled Burundi for neighboring countries in recent months.

    Jerome Delay/AP

  • Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks at the presidential palace in the capital Bujumbura on May 17, shortly after an attempted coup was quashed. He is running for a third term next month despite a constitutional limit of two terms.

    Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks at the presidential palace in the capital Bujumbura on May 17, shortly after an attempted coup was quashed. He is running for a third term next month despite a constitutional limit of two terms.

    Jerome Delay/AP

Hundreds of mourners in Burundi spilled out of a funeral service Tuesday at a Catholic church, their hands raised and their palms open in what is now a global meme against police violence.

They were there to mourn an engineering student, Theogene Niyondiko, 28. He was shot last Friday by police during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The real target of the mourners was also the president, who is running for a third five-year term in an election now planned for next month. He has defied both international appeals not to run again and Burundi's constitutional two-term limit.

The marchers took their mini-demonstration as far as the ruling party offices in the capital Bujumbura. Eyed by police and soldiers, the marchers quickly boarded buses and drove to a cemetery of white crosses and whispering palm trees.

Burundi is a small, ethnically divided nation that's rarely in the news, but it is at a very crucial juncture.

Refugees who fled Burundi's violence and political tension board a speedboat to reach a ship on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, on May 23. Some 100,000 refugees have fled Burundi for neighboring countries in recent months.

Refugees who fled Burundi's violence and political tension board a speedboat to reach a ship on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, on May 23. Some 100,000 refugees have fled Burundi for neighboring countries in recent months.

Jerome Delay/AP

Twelve years of civil war between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority ended a decade ago and had given the country relative stability. Burundi is part of an East Africa region that has been growing economically. That includes Burundi's northern neighbor Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic mix and went through a genocide two decades ago.

Yet unlike its more successful neighbors, Burundi is one of the poorest and hungriest countries in the world. That appears to be a root cause of the current resentment against the president.

Among the marchers, a recurring theme was a need for better economic opportunities and new blood in the presidential seat.

"We don't have the capacity of creating enterprises," Victor Ntisumbwa, one of the mourners, says of the country's weak private sector.

He says graduating students dream of getting one of the few government jobs, and he himself is an example of the country's slide backward. His father is an accountant and his mom a bank teller. He graduated from college with a degree in international relations, but his job teaching art and music at a public high school pays $12 a month and he feels lucky to have a job.

What would his future look like under another five-year term of President Nkurunziza? He laughs bitterly.

"You know, I think that he must go," he says.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks at the presidential palace in the capital Bujumbura on May 17, shortly after an attempted coup was quashed. He is running for a third term next month despite a constitutional limit of two terms.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks at the presidential palace in the capital Bujumbura on May 17, shortly after an attempted coup was quashed. He is running for a third term next month despite a constitutional limit of two terms.

Jerome Delay/AP

It will take more than street protests to make that happen. After considerable pressure from African neighbors and Burundian church leaders, and even an attempted coup by one wing of the army, the president responded by postponing the election from late June to mid-July.

In recent months, about 100,000 Burundians have fled the country to refugee camps in neighboring Rwanda and Tanzania, fearing another civil war.

Street protests continue in the capital's outskirts, where Theogene, the engineering student, met his death in a district called Musaga.

Claude Bukeyeneza, a friend of the family, says he'll be joining a protest on Wednesday and every day until he's either killed or arrested or the president steps down.

"If he removes his candidacy, a new president could create a plan for the youth," he says. "Businessmen would come from other countries to invest in our country. When I see how neighboring countries are developing, while our country is going backwards, my heart ..."

He doesn't finish the sentence. But simply strikes his chest. Then walks back to the grave to pay his respects.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're going to go now to the African nation of Burundi. An engineering student was buried there today. He was killed by police during an anti-government protest. Protests first broke out a couple of months ago, centering on the president's announced intention to stay in power past his term limit. Burundi had seen years of relative calm after a civil war. NPR's Gregory Warner reports that the student's killing signals that this new unrest will continue.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Nadege Nyuhire says she met him on Facebook. He messaged her, and she liked his face - serious, calm. Messaging led to phone calls, phone calls led to dates.

NADEGE NYUHIRE: He was kind. Not a man who talks so much, but he was intelligent. He'd think about what he'd want to say.

WARNER: The man's name was Theogene Niyondiko, age 28. He was studying to be an engineer, but his heart was in politics. He and Nadege talked often about the future of Burundi, a very poor country in a part of Africa - East Africa - where neighboring countries are all economically rising. Theogene blamed Burundi's woes on the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, and he fretted about the president's decision to run for yet a third term in office. Last week, he sent Nadege an urgent message - where are you? I have something important to tell you.

She messaged back, I'm traveling. Tell me Friday.

But by Friday morning, he was dead, shot by police after joining a demonstration against the president. More than three dozen others have also been killed.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting).

WARNER: Today, hundreds of mourners spilled out of Theogene's funeral service at a Catholic church. They held up their arms with palms open, in the now global meme against police violence. The target of their approach was Burundi's president, who has defied both international appeals not to run again and a limit imposed by Burundi's constitution of two five-year terms. The mourners took their mini demonstration as far as the ruling party offices, where, eyed by police and soldiers, they quickly boarded buses and drove to a cemetery of white crosses and whispering palm trees. Despite what mourners here will tell you, the blame for Burundi's impoverishment can't be laid completely at the government's feet. The country went through a cataclysmic, 12-year civil war that ended only a decade ago. But while that war was fought along ethnic lines, with the Hutu tribe against the Tutsi, this conflict is described by people here as economic, a deep frustration at the lack of jobs and weak private sector. Victor Ntisumbwa is a mourner I meet here. He says graduating students all dream of finding that rare government job.

VICTOR NTISUMBWA: We don't have the capacity of create enterprises. Every time - students, when they finish their studies, they look out the job that they can get from the government.

WARNER: Ntisumbwa says he's an example. The son of an accountant dad and a bank teller mom, he graduated college with a degree in international relations, but his job is teaching art and music in a public high school for a salary of $12 a month. And he's lucky to have a job.

So if the president runs then what does your future - your future look like?

NTISUMBWA: (Laughter). You know, I think that he must go.

WARNER: That seems unlikely to happen. After considerable pressure from African neighbors and Burundian church leaders and even an attempted coup by one wing of the army, the president merely agreed to postpone the election date from late June to a proposed date of mid-July. Street protests continue in the capital's outskirts, where Theogene met his death in a district called Musaga. Claude Bukeyeneza, a friend of the family, says he'll be joining the protest there tomorrow and every day until he's either killed or arrested or the president steps down.

CLAUDE BUKEYENEZA: (Through interpreter) If he removed his candidacy, a new president would create a plan for the youth. Businessmen would come from other countries to invest in our country. When I see how neighboring countries are developing while our country is going backwards, my heart...

WARNER: He doesn't finish the sentence. He just strikes his chest and then he walks back to the gravesite to pay his respects. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Bujumbura. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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