Burundi: “We were less hungry during the civil war”

Burundi: “We were less hungry during the civil war”

The economy is at a standstill, the country is paralyzed by a shortage of gasoline and the Burundians lack everything.

“The President of the Republic Évariste Ndayishimiye is not in denial but in dementia”says a Burundian journalist who, like all our interlocutors, only agrees to testify anonymously. “Repression is omnipresent, it is the work of the police and the imbonerakure militia serving the head of state's party, the CNDD-FDD.”

A repression “under the radar”, as a resident of Bujumbura explains. “These people crisscross the villages, the hills and a little bit of Bujumbura. There are deaths and, above all, disappearances every day. But never in large numbers. Four or five people maximum, not enough to make headlines abroad.”

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If the security situation is worrying, the economic deterioration is catastrophic. The gasoline shortage, regularly highlighted, is reaching unprecedented levels. “Without diesel, which we call fuel oil here, everything is at a standstill.” The country hoped for improvement in mid-May when an arrival of nearly 400 trucks from the company Interpetrol was reported in the country. “But it was only a one-shot and the Burundian population did not benefit from it. This convoy was essentially intended for the army which had to replenish its strategic stock”continues a resident of the economic capital who, like several interlocutors, fears that this oil has “especially allowed certain holders of power or high-ranking officers to make cash in dollars, by going to resell this black gold in neighboring Congo.”

Throughout the country, traffic is at a standstill. Trucks or buses are rare. In Bujumbura where everything is imported, daily life is punctuated by these shortages. “this Friday morning, at the central station, where all the buses serving the capital meet, there were barely 15% of buses. Which means that 85 of the people who have to come to town to work are forced to get up before dawn and travel several kilometers to come to work”. In the evening, this noria of pedestrians travels in the opposite direction in absolute darkness. “Here, it's dark at 6 p.m., there are thousands and thousands of people walking, often on the road, the sidewalks being too small or non-existent, to get home. When leaving the office, they wait an hour or two hoping for a bus to arrive which, most often, never arrives”explains an expatriate who also “now counts his movements in the city. I have been here for years but this is the first time I have experienced such a situation. Many expatriates have already left as daily life becomes difficult and the tension palpable, not to mention the fear of abuses by the police or the Imbonerakure which invades all levels of society”.

It really is black gold”

The liter of gasoline, on the black market, has been multiplied by 10 or even 15. When a truck driver is still driving he must inevitably pass on this cost to the goods he transports, which thus become unaffordable for most Burundians whose salary does not rarely exceeds 40 dollars per month.

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In recent days, even charcoal has been running out,” explains our expatriate. “It is the basic fuel for cooking for more than 90% of people even in a city like Bujumbura. We hardly use gas or electricity for cooking. As a result, even cooking rice or beans, the basic food, becomes very complicated and most Burundians only eat one meal a day. For some, they have been hungry for more than six months.”

A summer respite

Faced with this major economic crisis, no one thinks that the political class in power will find a solution. “They are too busy getting fat with their schemes. The country is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and even if the Burundians do not show anything in their attitude, the exasperation is total. We have never experienced this. Even during the civil war from 1993 to 2005, despite the embargo, despite the closed borders, shortages were never so unbearable,” continues another resident of Bujumbura who recalls that the Prime Minister, Gervais Ndirakobuca, publicly asked parliament that they no longer ask him questions about the crisis because he has no solution to propose.

The Burundians are now counting on the return of the diaspora in July and August. “These two months are the time for reunions and family celebrations. This will put the crisis on hold, predicts one of our interlocutors. It's the time for weddings, engagements, and the definitive lifting of mourning. “The currencies are coming back, families are reunited, the discontent will fade but it will not disappear and, in September, as no solution will be found this summer, everything will start again with a real risk of social explosion due to lack of perspective”.

A slow decline

Burundi has been hit for months by the flooding of Lake Tanganyika and the floods that accompany them. The country experienced eight months of rain, thousands of homes, schools and hospitals were flooded. This year, the dry season, which usually begins around June 15, started around May 20. “In one month, the lake level dropped by 5 centimeters. When we know that houses are sometimes invaded by 1.50 meters of height, we will have to wait until September, even with an acceleration of the recession, for the inhabitants to be dry. Given the quality of the cement, thousands of houses will collapse after months in the water. The end of the holidays is going to be a very sensitive time here.”