Burundi diary - inauguration day

I wake up very early this morning. It’s too hot these days in Burundi.

As usual, before leaving the house, my son asks me where I’m going today. I plan to write an article to mark the 15th anniversary of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accord, signed in Tanzania on 28 August in 2000 to bring about an end to a civil war that started seven years earlier. Some international heavyweights were there, including then US president Bill Clinton and mediator Nelson Mandela. I am also due to see my ophthalmologist: my eye has been bothering me lately.

But something unexpected happens that puts paid to my schedule. In Musaga, in the south of the capital, the body of a man said to be a soldier has been discovered. I take the car to find out what happened. Nowadays, going to crime scenes has become routine for reporters. Bodies show up every day, some of them decomposed, like the one found the other day near the airport.

The body in Musaga is bound and lying on the ground. It seems my country is sinking, whatever the president says about the war not coming back. If the war is not coming back, why are people being killed and their bodies thrown out like trash? Do these people have no friends, relatives who are shocked by these deaths?

My thoughts are interrupted by a text message. It’s from the office of the president of the Republic of Burundi.

“The swearing-in of the elected president will take place today. You are warmly welcome to attend.” The message was sent by Willy Nyamitwe, the head of presidential communications. Media colleagues and social media confirm that Pierre Nkurunziza will indeed be sworn in today, surrounded by legislators.

I leave the dead man and head to the office to talk to my editors. On 28 November Boulevard – named for independence day, and one of the biggest roads in Bujumbura – police are getting out of trucks and manning every junction. I hurry so as not to get stuck. 

I hear a whistle in front of my office. An officer of the presidential guard is already there with some of his men. As I set off for the ceremony, the officer tells me: “It’s too late. You’ll never make it in time. I will let you continue, but if others stop you you’ll have to obey their orders.”
I’m stopped by other security personnel. I show them my press badge but they won’t let me continue or, until I insist, return to my office.

At that point, the president of the national assembly goes past. I stand back as a gesture of courtesy.

As I head back to my office, policemen armed to the teeth are still driving up and down the boulevard. These are presidential security and it’s best to keep out of their way. In a few minutes everyone has to clear out, even pedestrians on the pavement.

“Go into your homes and offices and stay there until you are told you are allowed to come out,” said one policeman.

I find myself crowded into a small room with a dozen other people. It’s a similar scene up and down the boulevard, in cyber cafes, and buildings, both public and private.

I saw ministry workers prevented from leaving their office and sick people stopped from continuing their journeys and thought, this is serious. But I held my tongue and waited for the end of the ceremony.

Then the president drives down the boulevard, fast, in a motorcade of about 20 vehicles. It is a little after nine o’clock. We are allowed to listen to state radio, which broadcasts the ceremony live. (The headquarters of several private radio stations were destroyed on 14 May, a day after a failed coup attempt)

The president wins much applause and says that as of today Burundi will be stable and under God's protection.

It starts with leaders of the largest religious denominations: prayers for the president from a Catholic, a Protestant and a Muslim, as the head of state begins his third term in office. The radio says delegations from Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and China are in attendance.

After swearing his oath in Kirundi and French and being bestowed with a national honour, Nkurunziza addresses the nation. He says he believes that no one can go against the will of the people and especially of God. He cautions all those who want to destabilise Burundi that no one will survive the wrath of God. 

He wins much applause and says that, starting this Thursday, Burundi will be stable and under God’s protection.

Finally, the ceremony comes to an end. Again, the presidential convoy travels down the Boulevard 28 November. We are stuck for three hours, if not more. I spend the time ruminating: about the insecurity, about how, for the first time in my experience, the police had prohibited the slightest movement for hours on a main road because the president was passing, about how the president said it would take two months to neutralise armed groups in Burundi.

It’s a difficult situation. According to one of the leading opponents of Nkurunziza’s third term, Pacifique Nininahazwe, as from today, Burundi no longer has a president because the Arusha accord limited the number of presidential terms to two.

Meanwhile, people continue to die; more than 100, according to civil society organisations. It remains to be seen whether today’s swearing-in will put an end to the loss of human lives and bring about some stability in Burundi.

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