Thousands Flee Violence in Burundi, Fearing the Worst Is Yet to Come

Rights organizations are concerned the small African nation, which saw a decade-long war end in 2005, is on the brink of another major conflict.
Women leaving Burundi in April. (Photo: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)
Nov 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Families are leaving their homes in the Central African nation of Burundi after a fatal attack in the country’s capital and fears that a promised government crackdown on opposition groups will spur more attacks.

Gunmen killed at least nine people in Burundi’s capital city of Bujumbura on Saturday night, The Associated Press reports. The assassins forced civilians who were standing outside to come into the bar before opening fire, according to eyewitnesses.

The fatalities are just the latest in a string of civilian deaths that started in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza declared himself eligible for a contstitutionally proscribed third term, arguing his first term didn’t count, as he had been appointed by parliament. He won the election in July following accusations of intimidating the opposition through violence.

Nkurunziza, a Hutu rebel leader in Burundi’s 12-year civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi groups, came to power in 2005 in part of a peace deal. He was reelected in 2010, but his administration has since been accused of leaning on political opponents to maintain power. However, the country’s high court agreed with Nkurunziza that he could run again.

Nkurunziza ordered opposition members to lay down their arms by midnight on Saturday or else be considered terrorists. “This is the last warning,” he said.

The International Crisis Group called the government’s threats of violence “chillingly similar” to those used before the Rwandan genocide of Tutsi and moderate Hutu by Rwanda’s Hutu-led military and Hutu militias.

A United Nations official released a statement on Friday urging the government to protect the lives of all of its citizens, regardless of political affiliation, and condemned the use of hate speech.

At least 198 civilians have been found dead since April. Both police officers and opposition forces are responsible for these deaths, according to Human Rights Watch. As rebels have ambushed police officers, law enforcement has been accused of seeking out and summarily executing opponents, including the son of the country’s most famous human rights campaigner, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa.