To gain control over badly needed foreign currencies the Burundian government has now issued a new law, forcing all INGO’s, like Cordaid, to make payments to local independent NGOs via the Central Bank. As euros or dollars are then turned into local currency the value can easily drop 30%.
Cordaid’s program manager Godefroid Nimbona, Burundian himself, explains: “Many donor countries, like the Netherlands, have drastically reduced their bilateral aid to Burundi, as a means to pressure the government to abide by human rights standards.”
“These kinds of desperate measures only fan tensions and push the country and its people further down the drain. International companies and INGO’s alike are pushed out of the country, the economy will further collapse, inflation will flare up, meaning more poverty, more frustration among the younger generations and more violence.”
Business controller Martin Derks at Cordaid adds: “Apart from that, there’s the potential risk that we cannot collect our money that is stalled in the Central Bank when needed. So far we are extremely reticent in making payments to Burundi. The new law has even forced us to withdraw payments.”
On the verge of war
Burundi continues to hover on the brink of civil war. “Many church leaders urge the president to start inclusive talks with the opposition. They criticize the regime’s crackdown on civil society and risk their lives for doing so”, says Father Jean Bosco Nintunze, secretary general of Caritas Burundi.
“In mass demonstrations Hutus and Tutsis walked in harmony, opposing corruption, bad governance and human rights violations.”
Jean Bosco Nintunze, Caritas Burundi
He himself knows at least five fellow priests whose lives were in danger and had to flee the country. But it will not keep him from raising his voice. Meanwhile, also Cordaid increasingly feels the impact of government measures in Burundi.
Ever since president Nkurunziza won the disputed presidential elections in July last year, after pushing aside the constitution and running for a third term, things have not quieted down. On the contrary: as our colleague Triphonie in Bujumbura said recently, ‘the space for civil society has been rapidly shrinking’. So far over a quarter of a million Burundians have fled to neighboring countries like Tanzania and Congo, many of them hunted down by militias, even in refugee camps abroad.
Signs of war
Caritas Burundi’s secretary general Jean Bosco Nintunze, who briefly visited the Netherlands, equally sounds the alarm. “Indeed my country is on the brink of civil war. After the elections, violence did not decrease. Today there is a real climate of fear and many signs show a civil war is not far off: the government refuses to talk with the opposition; armed forces and security are omnipresent in the streets; followers of the opposition and the president alike are being killed by militias in the streets; those who raise their voices disappear. So far 262.000 people have fled the country, seeking safer grounds.”
Does ethnicity play a role?
So far ethnicity is not at the core of the violence, as it was in the genocidal Hutu –Tutsi clashes of 1993. Nintunze: “Today’s younger generation doesn’t care so much about ethnicity. In mass demonstrations Hutus and Tutsis walked in harmony, opposing corruption, bad governance and human rights violations and asking for peace. The population is united. Nevertheless, we should be extremely on our guard as politicians use the ethnicity argument to incite hatred and division and – in the end – gain personal power.”
There are many interests at play in the smoldering soil of Burundi’s conflict. Take the extractive riches of the small country. Fr. Nintunze: “One of the reasons for Nkurunziza’s desperate efforts to stay in power is to keep a grip on the mining exploitation of coltan, nickel and uranium reserves. The South Africans, the Russians, Chinese and Europeans, all of them are eager to pay big money and start or expand mining.”
As to solutions, Fr. Nintunze has one priority: “The entire international and Burundian community should combine efforts to organize inclusive talks between the government and the opposition, including the armed opposition. The African Union, set up to promote peace and protect people, has failed to play a role of importance. The church and Caritas Burundi have promoted dialogue and we will continue to do so. Just as we will continue our efforts, together with international supporters like Cordaid, to alleviate the suffering of those who are dealing with extreme poverty and injustice. We will master our nerves and continue to express ourselves openly, without fear. Because once we give in to fear, we lose the battle for justice.”