Interview with Immaculée Nahayo, Speaker of the National Assembly

Immaculée Nahayo was on 16 August elected Speaker of the National Assembly - the lower house of parliament - becoming the first woman in Burundi to hold the position. Widow of the late minister of interior, Simon Nyandwi, Nahayo is a member of the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), the party that won the recent legislative and presidential elections. In her new Bujumbura office at the Kigobe Congress Hall, Nahayo talked to IRIN about the presidential elections and the new parliament. Here are excerpts

QUESTION: Now that the elections have been completed successfully, can we say that Burundi is succeeding in its quest for democracy?

ANSWER: The elections were held in very good conditions, in a praiseworthy democratic way. People have elected the CNDD-FDD because they have understood and approved Pierre Nkurunziza and his party's programme. They have also voted because they hope and expect some changes. Burundians have really suffered for more than a decade and expect to be better off with the new leadership.

Q: In 1993, President Melchior Ndadaye was democratically elected, but was assassinated a few months later. What hope is there that this will not happen with the new president?

A: If we look at how the whole electoral process has been carried out since the beginning, I think there are reasons to hope that there will be no repeat of the 1993 scenario - because the situation is different. It is true that in 1993, Burundi organised democratic elections but there were no mechanisms in place to protect the elected institutions. The army was not representative of Burundi's ethnic composition and there was no national police to protect the president and other dignitaries. All these mechanisms have now been put in place and that is the reason why we hope things will be different.

Q: Was your election as Speaker a surprise to you?

A: Considering the size of the institution and the responsibilities on my shoulder it was a real surprise, but Burundians and my party have put their trust in me. ... I told myself that the Lord wanted it and I accepted.

Q: Why you and not someone else?

A: Because of my wisdom due to my age. On 12 September I will be 57. There are not many as old as I am. My experience in the party has also played a role. I have held several posts within the party. I was, successively, in charge of the movement's [CNDD-FDD] archives; in charge of the international relations; and finally treasurer, since I was in charge of collecting donations to the movement, whether within and outside Burundi. My militancy within the party has also influenced [people] to choose.

Q: Did your political career prepare you for that post?

A: No. But when you are a politician you have to prepare for anything and to take any political post, whatever the challenges. Now, as the public and party members have trusted me I am prepared to work and not disappoint them. An assemblyman has indeed to ensure that he works so as to meet the expectations of the electorate.

Q: What are your priorities as Speaker?

A: We are planning to promote good relations among Members of Parliament. When we were elected we had the same status, whether a simple MP or Speaker. We will work for the unity of the National Assembly so that MPs will be able to work in a conducive climate and attain good results. We will also promote good relations and cooperation with other parliaments.

Q: Some believe that women understand the plight of people better than men, what will you do to relieve the suffering of Burundians?

A: First, I will ensure that elected MPs break with the tradition of the previous legislature. MPs are not elected to live in Bujumbura, the capital. They must be as near as possible to the people who elected them so that they could represent them adequately in the National Assembly.

After the session here, all parliamentarians will go back to their constituencies. Under the CNDD-FDD government, MPs will be given offices to stay in their constituencies and propose development schemes to the population. They have to sensitise the population so that they do not expect everything from the government, or flee to the towns in search of work. They can help them start small projects, create cooperatives, etcetera.

Q: Women received 30 percent representation in the parliament, is it enough?

A: It is not the number that counts. If the women are efficient and are responsible this can change the situation of women, even their economic welfare. We are not, therefore, targeting a certain percentage as some are crying out for but we believe we have to ensure that the right woman is put at the right place. A large number of women in the country's institutions will not be helpful to women if there are no tangible results.

Q: What can be done so that female representation is not just a slogan in other sectors such as the administration or public enterprises?

A: In some enterprises, it is difficult to make them understand that a woman is able to perform as much as a man. It is, therefore, important to sensitise employers and even staff so that they change their mentality and understand that women can perform well in politics and public enterprises.

Q: Some enterprises cut the salaries of women when they are on maternity leave, what do you think about that?

A: Those people ignore the rights of women. Women are created with the capacity to give life and they cannot be penalised for that. If women are penalised, I think that they should raise the issue and we will help them fight such attitudes.

Q: For some time now Burundian women have been expecting parliament to pass the bill on the girls’ inheritance, what chance is there that this legislature will vote on the issue?

A: That law is still at the government level. If the government does not adopt it, we will pressurise it, so that it brings it to the National Assembly for debate. But I cannot tell right now whether or not it will be adopted.