Burundi refugees call for deal to allow them home

Samba Cyuzuzo

BBC Great Lakes

Refugees holding their hands up
Getty Images
Thousands fled to Rwanda in 2015 after tensions rose over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office

A letter written by a group of Burundian refugees living in a camp in Rwanda asks their president to cooperate with Rwanda and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to repatriate them. However, there is not yet an agreement between the two countries and the UNHCR on how to carry it out.

More than 60,000 Burundian refugees have been living in Mahama camp, in eastern Rwanda, since the 2015 political crisis over the late former President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term.

More than 300 Mahama residents signed the letter to their president accusing some exiled Burundian politicians of "wanting them to stay in the camp for their own interests".

Emmanuel Bizimana, one of the signatories told the BBC that "now it is time now to return home", adding:

We know our country is safe now, that's why we wrote to our president."

In his inaugural speech in June, President Evariste Ndayishimiye pleaded for refugees to return and since then nearly 2,000 have come back from Tanzania, UN figures show.

But there is not yet an agreement between Rwanda, Burundi and the UNHCR to allow the refugees in Rwanda to come back.

Burundi should break cycle of violence - UN

Imogen Foulkes

BBC News, Geneva

UN investigators have called on Burundi's new president to improve the country's human rights record and break the cycle of violence.

In a report, they asked President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was sworn in last month, to address violence committed by the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure.

The report also asked Burundi's new government to co-operate with its investigation into human rights violations, allow the re-opening of its office in the country and release detained journalists.

Burundi’s representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva said the report was politically motivated.

President Ndayishimiye took over after the sudden death of former President Pierre Nkurunziza. He was already poised to become president after having won May's election as the candidate for the governing party.

While Mr Nkurunziza was still in power, BBC Africa Eye reported on Burundi's security services running secret torture sites to silence dissent. The government has always denied any human rights violations, and declined to comment on that 2018 report.


Burundi: Inside the Secret Killing House

Burundi couple marries days after motorbike crash

Florentine Kwizera

BBC Great Lakes

Charlotte Mukantwari married Gabin Ndayizigiye
BBC Gahuza
People flocked to the hospital to witness the ceremony

A young couple in Burundi's northern city of Kirundo have surprised many by proceeding with their wedding plans despite the groom being involved in a serious accident a few days earlier.

Charlotte Mukantwari married Gabin Ndayizigiye at the hospital where he was being treated following a motorcycle accident on 30 June.

She has been at his bedside since the accident happened and both decided to hold the ceremony on 4 July as they had planned.

Despite the priest telling Ms Mukantwari to dress down, in what he expected to be a low-key event, she showed up wearing a wedding dress.

"‘I’ve been waiting for that date, facing that challenge was like facing the devil's temptation, I couldn’t imagine my life by missing it," Ms Mukantwari told the BBC Gahuza service.

Curious locals also thronged the hospital building where the ceremony was being held, to witness the ceremony.

Mr Ndayizigiye said he was touched by his wife's insistence to proceed with the wedding despite not knowing whether he would be able to walk again.

He made a brief appearance to take his marriage vows and was then rushed back to his hospital bed.

French-speaking bloc lifts Burundi sanctions

The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) - an organisation of French-speaking countries - has lifted sanctions imposed on Burundi four years ago "in light of recent political developments", the organisation said in a statement on its website.

The announcement was also made on Twitter by OIF secretary general Louise Mushikiwabo:

"A very good session of the permanent council of the Francophonie. At the heart of the debate: a strengthened and humane multilateralism, attentive to the needs of our populations, plus the lifting of the 2016 sanctions against Burundi, in accordance with procedures," she said.

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The sanctions were put in place after late President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office in 2015 sparked violence.

The OIF is made up of 57 member states whose main language is French.

Burundi begins mass coronavirus testing

Samba Cyuzuzo

BBC Great Lakes

Burundi coronavirus mass testing
Burundi health ministry
The country's new president has insisted on a tougher stance

Burundi has launched a mass testing campaign for coronavirus, in a fresh campaign by the new government to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Former President Pierre Nkurunziza was accused of downplaying the issue, saying: "God had cleared [coronavirus] from Burundi's skies", almost a fortnight before he died last month of cardiac arrest.

But last week, his successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, declared coronavirus a "major enemy of Burundians" and wowed "to start the fight against that enemy".

At the launch of the campaign in main city of Bujumbura, many people were unusually seen wearing masks.

A record 640 tests were taken on the day, the highest number since March when the virus was reported in the country.

Since the new president took office on 18 June, more than 1,900 tests have been taken compared with only 1,200 taken before.

The heath ministry says the campaign testing will continue in order to show the status of the virus in the country.

Burundi has so far reported 191 cases from 3,200 tests done in the past three months.

Burundi, South Sudan face expulsion from regional bloc

Russell Padmore

Business correspondent, BBC News

East Africa's presidents
Getty Images
A final decision will be made when the heads of state next meet

Burundi and South Sudan could soon lose their membership of the East African Community (EAC), which could undermine the stability of the regional economic bloc.

The EAC's Assembly has voted to expel the two countries, because both have defaulted on their membership fees.

A final decision on whether Burundi and South Sudan should be shown the exit door will be made when the heads of state of the member nations next meet.

The members of the EAC, which also includes Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, are supposed to pay $8m (£6.5m) a year.

But Burundi has paid nothing for four years, while South Sudan owes $10m.

The government in Juba is struggling to cope with an economic crisis, caused by the recent civil war, but Burundi's reluctance to pay follows its demand for lower fees, based on its contention that its economy is smaller than its neighbours.

Burundi president honours Nkurunziza's son

Samba Cyuzuzo

BBC Great Lakes

Kelly Nkurunziza receives the hero's award from Burundi President Ndayishimiye

Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye has awarded a hero's medal to the eldest son of former President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Lieutenant Kelly Nkurunziza was awarded the national medal by his father's successor during Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations.

The younger Nkurunziza was commissioned as an army officer in March by his father to the rank of second-lieutenant after he finished commando training in the country.

He was subsequently promoted to the rank of lieutenant a day before the July 1 celebrations.

The former president died in office last month.

“Because of his discipline and heroism, everyone who saw him says ‘this young man will become something," Mr Ndayishimiye, who was a close ally of the late president, said.

The president also rewarded two soldiers including one who was recently killed as he "bravely fought the neighbour of the north" in Lake Rweru, near the border with Rwanda.

In May, Burundi and Rwanda soldiers clashed at the border lake, in one of several recent military incidents that reflect the five-year lon tensions between the two neighbours.

Burundi changes tack to fight Covid-19

Robert Misigaro

BBC Africa

President Evariste Ndayishimiye

The authorities in Burundi have announced rare measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, moving away from a relaxed attitude shown by the previous government.

In a speech before the parliament after the swearing in of ministers, new President Evariste Ndayishimiye announced the following measures, including a special measures for soap.

  • To make sure that a good majority of the population has access to soap, the price of this commodity will be reduced by 50% with the government covering the other half to make up the losses to soap manufacturers. "Anyone caught smuggling cheap soap from Burundi will be considered as helping to spread coronavirus and will be dealt with accordingly," the president said.

  • In all cities the price of water will be significantly reduced until coronavirus has been eradicated

  • Anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 is urged to go to the hospital where they will be tested and treated for free

  • If an outbreak is suspected in an area, everyone living there will be tested

Burundi's new leader unveils cabinet

Samba Cyuzuzo

BBC Great Lakes

Burundi's new President Evariste Ndayishimiye
President Evariste Ndayishimiye has reduced the ministries from 23 to 15

Burundi's newly-elected leader Evariste Ndayishimiye has named a new cabinet that includes two officials under US and EU sanctions.

The leaner cabinet is composed of a prime minister and 15 ministers. They have the task of turning around the country's economy, security and improving relations with its neighbours, especially Rwanda.

Burundi's top diplomat to the UN Albert Shingiro was named to the foreign affairs ministry.

Former police chief Gervais Ndirakobuca has been named the minister for interior and security.

Mr Ndirakobuca and Prime Minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni were sanctioned by the US and EU for their suspected role in violence and human rights violations during unrest in 2015 - when the then president, the late Pierre Nkurunziza, pushed for a third term.

Five women have been appointed to posts in the ministries of justice, labour, trade and tourism, social affairs and human rights, and communication.

President Ndayishimiye also retained Thaddée Ndikumana as health minister despite criticism of how the previous administration handled the coronavirus pandemic in Burundi.

Gunmen attack Rwandan village near Burundi border

Samba Cyuzuzo

BBC Great Lakes

Gunmen attacked a village in south-western Rwanda near the border with Burundi in the early hours of Saturday.

Rwanda's army said the around 100 attackers arrived from Burundi, but Burundi has denied the accusation.

Rwanda's army said the attackers "intended to kill civilians" in Yanze village and withdrew after clashing with Rwandan soldiers.

Four of the attackers were killed and three others captured, while three Rwandan soldiers were injured, it said.

Burundi's army responded by saying its territory "can’t be a sanctuary for armed elements to destabilise neighbouring countries".

The two East African neighbours have unresolved political tensions since a coup against the late President Pierre Nkurunziza failed in April 2015. He accused Rwanda of having a hand in the plot, but Rwanda denied any involvement.

The five years of tension have hampered trade and cross-border activities between the two countries.

Burundi has a new president who took office last week. Some expect him to normalise relations with the country's northern neighbour.