The Trouble That's Brewing In Burundi
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.