A few days before the 'attempted' coup this week, a blogger in the Burundian capital Bujumbura gave a chilling account of the breakdown of law and order in the capital. The organisers of the protests seemed to have no particular plan and the people were beginning to turn against themselves.
I hate this hashtag. It’s so doomsday. I wonder what was in the mind of the person who used it first. I’ve never used it… until today. And I’m using it because I’ve just realised that shit is about to hit the roof, if it hasn’t already. Yes, I used the “s word” and I’m probably going to use more foul language today. You’re asked to kindly bear with me, as these are no times to be politically correct.
It’s day eleven of the anti-third term protests in Burundi…
I’ll be honest; I never expected this whole thing to be peaceful when it started. You’d be dumb if you expected that Nkurunziza and his crew would just let us walk around the country calling him names then hand us the keys to the Presidential Palace just after a few days… of course, after being pressured by the “International Community” to bow to the voice of the people.
Everybody knew it would go nuts at some point – which partly explains the number of people who fled the country before any of this happened – but I bet nobody or very few people expected the violence to come from “our side”. Everybody expected the police and Imbonerakure [ruling party militia"> to start the war and then anything “we” did could be qualified as self-defense. Nobody expected that “one of us” would burn a man suspected of being “the enemy” alive. You were shocked weren’t you? Everybody was!
We knew (and probably hoped) the government and its supporters would strike first, and it would be the perfect excuse to prove that five more years of this system was the last thing Burundi needed. The International Community would condemn the violence, promise sanctions, and after a few days Nkurunziza and his crew would let go of the precious third term. Hah, it’s sad how educated adults can be so naïve…
This could be why the opposition and the civil society leaders who called people to the streets (and have been threatening to do so for over a year) never took the time to plan and think any of this through. I guess they thought it would just happen, that people would spontaneously organise themselves, set their frustrations aside, protest “peacefully” and “resist” any provocations from government and its agents. I doubt they thought about the implications of the violence everybody saw coming.
When things started heating up a few days ago, I went to find some protesters to ask them what they were up to. Things were beginning to look ugly and people had already died. I needed to understand the plan behind all of it since we wanted the same thing, although we were going after it in different ways (in case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m more of a “bourgeois” keyboard fighter than a street fighter). The first thing I learnt was that there was no plan. I couldn’t believe it. How could someone call for a nationwide movement without a plan? On the other, the guys who had called us to the streets had disappeared from the radar. Sure they were on some radios and social media, but aren’t you supposed to be on the frontlines when you call people to the streets? Leadership 101?
The second lesson I learnt was that the protests weren’t just about Nkurunziza anymore. Peace would never return in the neighbourhoods that were protesting as long as their populations felt insecure vis-à-vis the police and Imbonerakure militia. Paranoia had grown into proportions so large that returning to normal would require way more than Nkurunziza renouncing the third term. The protests against the third term had turned into a war against “enemy infiltration”.
However, naïve that we are, we kept feeding “the movement”, calling it to spread over the whole city and the whole country, not realising how we were driving ourselves into a dangerous trap - with the help of the government, of course.
Instead of protecting us, they pushed us further and further toward the edge of the ditch: first by restricting our rights even further, feeding the paranoia, then by playing the deny-and-accuse game.
Mention the violent protests, and they say the protesters started it. Speak about the human casualties, they totally ignore any injuries and deaths not counted on “their side”. One loss on their side and they make a whole story out of it. They even wrote a script and had it memorized by all their spokespeople and ambassadors around the world! You would expect them to be aware that since every major news outlet in the world has a reporter on the ground and that random citizens have access to social media (and free VPN – virtual private network – applications, to counter the restrictions, you ignorant fools!) to report events as they happen nobody would swallow the nonsense they’ve been trying to feed the world. But they continue to float in their delusional world.
As though that wasn’t enough, some government officials and CNDD-FDD fanatics have been trying to stir this problem into something worse by playing the ethnic card, an evil game that could have dangerous and irreversible consequences.
Some of you have been sitting there quietly (or not, if you’re a fellow keyboard activist) as though all this doesn’t concern you but you’re delusional too!
When protesters start threatening the lives and livelihoods of other citizen, it’s time to wake your smug asses up and face the fact that you’re not safe whichever side you’re on! (Except if you’re reading this from outside Burundi and are never going to come back again – all you people who fled to Kigali without a plan thinking this would only last a few days, we see you and are waiting for you to return!).
The situation has reached a point where we don’t feel safe taking our vehicles out because the people who supposedly want the same thing we do (“no to the third term!”) threaten to damage them to “punish us” for not helping them “fight for the cause”. It has reached a point where we don’t get enough sleep at night because we have to “protect ourselves” from “enemy infiltration”, since we don’t trust the police anymore. With barricades everywhere, my neighbourhood is starting to feel like Brick Mansions, if you know the movie… and I live in Kinindo, which is pretty relaxed compared to places like Musaga and Nyakabiga.
Paranoia is so high that a simple wrong impression could make you quickly cross the fine line between life and death, if you fall into the wrong hands.
It’s chaos in Bujumbura, and if we don’t stop it, pretty soon it will be chaos in Burundi!
Imagine when the food runs out, when the rent is due, when there’s no more money because nobody has been going to work… Imagine when the guys who have been protesting for weeks, angry and hungry, start believing the reason the protests “haven’t been successful” is because the folks in the “posh” (non-barricaded) neighbourhoods haven’t “been helpful”… what do you think they’ll do? Do you remember how some populations in the rural areas used to be forced into “supporting” the rebel groups that used to roam the country? Isn’t it starting to feel like that?
And the worst part in all this is that those who claim they want to help settle the crisis are not even engaging the right people. They are speaking with a government which is the reason why people are so scared, and with the opposition and civil society who have no control over what is happening on the ground. They sit and moderate political deals without asking the people, who are the real victims, what they really desire. How many protesters are actually invited to the negotiation tables? If you dared to ask them you would find out they don’t even trust the people who claim to represent them anymore…
Hey, this is not a cry for help. It is a warning. The situation is bad but there is still enough room for it to get worse. And everybody is responsible for whatever might happen from this point. The government and its friends for playing dangerous and manipulative games, the opposition and civil society for being irresponsible, the population for being naive, and the “International Community” for being oblivious! We’re all responsible! And yes, I’m playing the blame game without being able to suggest any solutions at all because this problem is way above my league. This isn’t something that can be handled by one man alone. All this one man can do is warn you, while sincerely hoping that he is wrong to feel this way, and that he is just another lost paranoid soul…
God help us, is all I can say!
* Karl-Chris Nsabiyumva who currently lives and works in Bujumbura blogs at Mr Burundi.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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