Burundi: immense suffering and pain

 

Königstein/Rom, 06.08.2015. “We have no idea how this grave crime will affect the already difficult situation in our country. But undoubtedly this killing will have serious consequences.” So said Father Lambert Niciteretse, the secretary general of the bishops’ conference of Burundi. He was speaking to ACN about the murder of General Adolph Nshimirimana, the right hand man of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, yesterday in the capital Bujumbura.

 

General Nshimirimana, the former head of the secret services, was the head of the security services and also head of the presidential guard, and there is no doubt that his killing will still further complicate the situation in this country of central Africa, which already for some months now has been living in a state of grave political instability.

The decision of President Nkurunziza on 25 April this year to stand again for a third presidential term sparked off a series of protests throughout the country. For in fact both the Constitution and the Arusha Peace Accords – which were signed in Tanzania in the year 2000 between representatives of the rival Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups – limit the length of time the President may serve to no more than two five-year terms.

The local Catholic Church immediately condemned the illegal nature of the president’s candidacy and in May, ahead of the legislative elections, it withdrew its own representatives from the Independent National Electoral Commission, CENI. “The Catholic Church cannot allow herself to be part of an electoral process that is visibly not consensual and contains legal defects”, the bishops wrote at the time in an official communiqué. The bishops have maintained their firm position, despite the threat of possible retaliation on the part of the government. “The Church continues to pursue her mission”, Father Lambert told ACN, “expounding the principles of her social doctrine even when this does not meet with the favour of the politicians. The truth must be proclaimed and irregularities must be denounced.”

Meanwhile, the exodus of Burundian civilians continues unabated. People are fleeing on account of the instability, the violent clashes and the repression exerted by the central government. Tens of thousands have fled to Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and though a few families have returned in order to enable their children to sit the state exams, sources close to the local Church have informed ACN that the number of refugees could reach as many as 200,000 by Christmas time. “In addition to the great pain we are feeling because of the political crisis, we are grieving for our brothers and sisters who have been forced to flee”, Father Lambert told ACN.

The people are living in fear and uncertainty, not least on account of the grave lack of information. For in practice the transmitters of most of the private radio and television stations have been destroyed. “Apart from the radio and TV stations linked to the ruling party, the only stations still working are those transmitting from abroad. It is also a serious limitation for the Church herself, since she can convey its important message of peace only through Radio Maria Burundi. But despite the difficulties, we will continue to support the people, to denounce violence and invite all parties to peace and the respect of human rights.”

Marta Petrosillo.