Burundi: “All the plagues fall on us”

Burundi: “All the plagues fall on us”

Torrential rains are swelling the waters of Lake Tanganyika which could reach exceptional levels.

A resident of Bujumbura examines the water level of Lake Tanganyika which continues to rise. “Exactly 60 years ago, in 1963-64, the lake experienced an exceptional flood which caused great damage. This year, we could beat this record.”

Lake Tanganyika is the largest freshwater reservoir in Africa, with 18,880 km3. By its depth, it is the second lake in the world, with trenches reaching 1,470 m. It is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Zambia and Burundi, the country most affected by its floods due to the high density of the population living on the edge of the lake. This is the case of Bujumbura, the most populated city.

The waters of the lake have been in flood for almost four years,” explains another resident of Bujumbura. “Here, things are still going well even though we see the water level increasing every day, but certain towns, like Gatumba, between here and the Congolese border, have had to adapt to this situation. In Burundi, there are already more than 35,000 climate refugees. They had to abandon their house because of this rising water.”

And this year, the forecasts are catastrophic. “The dry season will not arrive before June. The rains will still fall for several months. Generally, in January, we experience a period of calm but in recent years, this has no longer been the case. We also see that Lake Kivu, which flows into Tanganyika, is full as an egg.”

Threats to the airport

In Bujumbura, residents fear that the waters will reach the airport. Some experts believe that in the coming weeks half of the runway will be under water, prohibiting all large and medium-sized aircraft. “Which would only increase the economic crisis”, continues our witness who recalls that the Burundian power of President Évariste Ndayishimiye closed the borders with Rwanda, cutting off a source of trade for the north of the country and particularly the province of Cibitoke which, with the torrential rains of recent weeks, is increasingly cut off from the rest of the country. “The roads between Bujumbura and our province are barely passable and are deteriorating very quickly,” explains a resident of the town of Cibitoke, capital of the province of the same name.

With the closure of the border, we lost an important market. If the road to Bujumbura were to be cut, it would be a new disaster. With the end of trade with Rwanda, we are losing a lot of our income”, continues the trader who no longer has access to Rwandan currencies, more interesting than the Burundian franc which continues to depreciate. It now takes 5,200 Burundian francs for one euro on the black market. The official rate is 3,000 “bu francs” for one euro. “But the banks don’t have foreign currency, so it’s the black market or nothing. Ten months ago, for one euro, you needed 4,000 francs bu. The franc has therefore lost 30% of its value in ten months and the trend is not improving. continues our interlocutor who does not hide his fear of seeing an explosion of violence.

Military grumble

The Burundian regime is on its guard but the discontent within the army continues to swell, like the waters of the lake.

The Burundian people have already demonstrated their capacity for resilience in recent years in the face of shortages of all kinds. “Resilience or fear?”asks one of our interlocutors who recalls that “the repression carried out by the government in 2015 left deep traces in all families”. But this time, the discontent has reached the army. According to several testimonies, 300 to 500 soldiers have been arrested in recent weeks and are found in barracks dungeons. At the heart of this discontent, the sending of several battalions (between 6 and 10, no official figures are available) to North Kivu to fight alongside the Congolese army. “Burundians systematically find themselves on the front line”, explains a source who goes on to indicate that several dozen soldiers fled the fighting and returned to their village. “Sometimes they had to cover more than 350 kilometers on foot. They had to live on theft because, obviously, they had nothing to eat or drink.”

A credible source indicated this Thursday, February 1 that at least 10 soldiers and 15 Imbonerakure (members of the ruling party’s youth league) have been in detention at the Cibitoke military camp since January 29 “for refusing to fight on the Congolese front”.

Several point to the significant number of deaths in the Burundian ranks in both North and South Kivu. “When officers fall, the army is obliged to communicate. For soldiers, no figures. No information to the family who loses a son and receives no compensation”continues a Western source which explains “expect mayhem at the top of the state. Bets are on on the date of the next coup. The conspirators must agree on the name of their leader who will have to manage a difficult situation with a country on the verge of bankruptcy which will not, initially, be able to count on any international aid.”

What do you think of this article?