In Burundi, where radio is the most important news source for the general population, the government-mandated shutdown of the capital’s independent stations is beginning to have dangerous consequences.
And the facts that do get reported amid all the rumors and uncertainty are grim indeed. On Wednesday, Burundi’s Ministry of Public Security announced that at least six people have been murdered since Sunday. The victims include General Adolphe Nshimirimana, the former director of Burundi’s intelligence services and army chief of staff. Widely credited with masterminding the suppression the summer’s political protests as well as foiling General Godefroid Niyombare’s May 13 coup attempt, General Nshimirimana was killed along with his bodyguards in his SUV. Witnesses say he was ambushed by four men armed with rocket launchers and machine guns in a military-style truck.
Local journalism suffered a further setback when Agence-France Presse’s Burundian correspondent Esdras Ndikumana reportedly was detained by government forces while photographing the scene of Nshimirimana’s assassination. Ndikumana said he was beaten severely on his back, legs, and the soles of his feet during a two-hour detention.
The next day, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, perhaps the most prominent human-rights activist to have remained in the country since the escalation of violence that began in May, was attacked by a gunman on a motorbike on his way home from work in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura. Mbonipa, who publicly opposed President Pierre Nkurinziza’s bid for a third term and alleged voting irregularities during the national elections on July 21, survived the attack, despite being struck in the face and neck by four bullets. He remains in stable condition, although his family has alleged he has been prohibited from leaving the country to receive needed treatment.
With nearly 180,000 Burundians now exiled in Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, incumbent President Nkurinziza unsurprisingly won the country’s presidential election with a landslide 69.41 percent of the vote, a full 50 percentage points ahead of Agathon Rwasa, the Hutu leader of the National Liberation Forces (Forces pour la Libération Nationale), considered to be Nkurinziza’s CNDD-FDD’s most serious opposition. Nkurinziza himself creaked toward his local polling station atop his mountain bike, surrounded on all sides by walking bodyguards. Wearing the warmup uniform of the presidential soccer team Helleluia FC, for which he serves as striker—his official résumé once stated that he “scores regularly”—Nkurinziza stood in a short line while a designated group of the indigenous minority Batwa ethnic group sang and danced in his honor, before presumably voting for himself.
Despite declaring a boycott of July’s election vote, which he called “a joke,” Rwasa, the Hutu leader, has since accepted a government position, joining the Burundian Parliament on July 27 before being elected its first deputy speaker on July 30, with the support of Nkurinziza’s CNDD-FDD. Although some political observers have speculated that his about-face is a means to take advantage of government resources in the lead-up to a 2020 presidential bid, Rwasa has claimed he believes Burundi’s current tensions will be resolved with dialogue.
Unlike the Burundian civil war, which officially ended in 2006 when Rwasa’s rebel army joined the political fray with the formation of the FLN party, the current conflict has yet to divide along ethnic lines. That is despite early, sensationalized claims by the Nkurinziza government, which sought to downplay popular dissatisfaction with the president’s internationally condemned third bid. As the government and its dissenters’ reciprocal violence continues to escalate, urban and rural populations alike will continue to emigrate in anticipation of civil war, and the fragile state of the nation’s fledgling economy will continue to deteriorate. Amid rampant rumors and nightly grenade explosions in Bujumbura, Burundi’s future is far from certain.