Burundi diary: election day

The presidential election finally took place today. Across the country, according to state radio and other stations still on the air, things are fine.

For me, what’s important isn’t so much this election. I am more worried about people’s security. I wonder about people who can’t sleep well because they have fled or because strangers come into their homes.

Last night I heard grenades going off and gunshots in several parts of Bujumbura, including Kamenge, an area which had been calm up to now. One resident there told me, “We also heard the music at night.” It made me realise that people have become so used to gunfire.

There are few independent or private media journalists left in this country. It’s hard to find reliable information. After the explosions, the place was abuzz with text messages and phone calls: “What’s happening? Who is shooting? Why?"

Some people think journalists know everything about what’s going on. We don’t, even if information often comes first from us and is later confirmed by the authorities. The police have yet to explain the who and why of the shooting.

This morning I woke up as normal. I called a colleague from the Iwacu Press Group, the only private media company still functioning since the attacks on the press that followed an aborted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza in May. We’re to work together, which is great; otherwise there’s a risk of being kidnapped, and then who would tell our family? That’s how it is now. 

I didn’t see a lot of people voting today while visiting polling stations in the Bujumbura districts of Taba, Kamenge, Gihosa, Rohero and Nyakabiga. Outside the capital, according to media reports, turnout was quite high. But in the city, according to the chairman of the electoral commission, voters only turned up in dribs and drabs. This was no surprise: turnout for the parliamentary elections held on 29 June was below 30 percent.

In some polling stations I visited, I saw voters trying to remove the indelible ink from their finger with lemon juice. Others put oil on their finger before voting so that when the ink was applied, it came off easily. It seems they didn't want to be clearly identified as having voted.

This morning there was a spate of criticism of the election. Belgium, our former colonial power, and the United States, both said the polls lacked credibility and shouldn’t be held.

We’ve heard all this before. People deplore the closure of political space, and then what? I wouldn’t give my life to a politician but I believe in the future of this country and its youth. I believe if you give people a chance they will do better. What I and other young people miss now is a chance for stability. We’ve had problems for a long time. We’ve been burying our loved ones for a long time. We don’t really know those who have bereaved us because there have been no credible investigations.

I am not going to have more than I had before because of these elections.

Burundians like me expected stability from credible elections. Whatever happens, we need stability. That’s all. For now, this stability is absent. Can you conceive of 161,000 refugees? It’s shocking to call family members in the province of Nyanza Lac and find their phones switched off. Why? They’ve fled the country, school children included. They finished the school year but missed their exams and left for camps in Tanzania. Tanzania has become another home for many in my family. I don’t know if these elections will bring them back or other Burundians suffering in camps in Congo and Rwanda.

For previous diary entries, see: Bullets before the ballot

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