Burundi_protests
Violent protests following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to pursue a third term have left at least 19 dead and pushed over 50,000 out of their homes. With the streets ablaze in Burundi, a landlocked southeastern African country, analysts fear for the region’s economic stability.

A shirtless man, sporting a pink whistle around his neck, screamed at army officials for bulldozing a barricade made of old tires, his French wavering. Mismatched protestors stood behind the man, while police officials slowly closed in on the group, billy-clubs raised.

Days later, tear gas and live ammunition would be used on hundreds of civilians gathered only a kilometer away from Nkurunziza in the country’s capital of Bujumbura.

This political discord follows a decade-long civil war that ended in 2005 with the Arusha Agreement, which set the terms for the presidency. The accord, implemented by the constitution, reads “no one may serve more than two presidential terms.”

Operating on this basis, many Burundians see a third term as an illegal and unjust power grab. For some, however, the issue with Nkurunziza extends beyond these technicalities. For the past five years, the president has muffled the voices of his people – restricting the press and the freedom to protest.

“This present electoral problem is the result of the last five years’ rule of President Nkurunziza,” said Thierry Vircoulon, the project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Though economic growth has remained stable in years past, mostly because of coffee exportation and the mining of nickel, the mass exodus of Burundi citizens could have serious monetary implications. According to Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently more than 20,000 refugees in Rwanda, 10,000 in Tanzania and 5,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We are extremely worried,” he said, speaking in Nairobi.

Rwanda, already a haven for 74,000 refugees from the Congo, has been overwhelmed since mid-April. Though a new Mahama refugee camp is capable of holding 60,000, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees predicts this still won’t be enough.

Sitting slightly above Rwanda and bordering Lake Victoria, Uganda will likely feel the heat of the protests. Exporting large amounts of coffee and scrap metal, Burundi currently stands as Uganda’s biggest trade partner, according to a tax analysis report.

“We are expecting if the situation in Burundi gets worse there could some economic effect on Uganda,” said Nebert Rugadya, a business commentator in Kampala.

The instability in Burundi has had a domino effect – compromising trade, straining health care systems and drying up foreign aid in neighboring nations. According to François Conradie from the African Economic Consultants NKC, tension could also foment civil war in the region of Goma on the Congo-Rwanda border.

“A stable Burundi means a lot for stability in the region,” Rugadya said.

Concerns over an overall reduced quality of life are also surfacing. The country’s 67 percent poverty rate, which has been greatly increased by civil conflict in years past, continues to climb.

– Lauren Stepp

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, US News, VOX, Washington Post
Photo: Flickr

Burundi's Political Turmoil Worsens
Burundi has not experienced much of a stable political climate so far this century. After ending a 12 year civil war in 2005, security and political freedom are far from certain.

It took until 2009 for the last rebel group — Forces for National Liberation, or FNL, — to give up arms. Then in 2010, President Pierre Nkurunziza was reelected amidst suspected electoral fraud. Political killings plagued this election as rights groups estimate 300 people were killed. Political freedom was further stymied by a law passed in 2013 that made criticism of the government threats to national security or public order, punishable under the law.

Burundi’s shaky past have many worried that the upcoming elections in May 2015 will be unfair and turn violent.

The increasing intensity at which the government has been trying to silence the opposition is also another concern. In recent months, politically motivated violent attacks by the youth wing of the ruling party — Imbonerakure — against perceived opposition has risen.

In May, the prominent human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was arrested. Mbonimpa founded the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons. He has worked for years defending the rights of the most vulnerable Burundians.

His arrest sparked protests, and although they have been peaceful, the government has not backed down. Earlier this summer, they banned protests in support of Mbonimpa.

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, has said that “special attention must be paid to the full respect for freedom of expression, including for journalists and human rights defenders.”

Deep-rooted disagreements between the government and the opposition, coupled with increasing restrictions on freedom of press and no accountability for the atrocities of the previous election, all point to a troubled 2015 election.

Some in the international community are calling for the situation in Burundi to be seriously monitored over the next few months in order prevent the situation from deteriorating and leading to violent elections in 2015.

The best action at this stage would be for Burundi’s donors and development partners, like France, Belgium and the U.K. to warn the government that human rights and free elections need to be honored.

Eleni Marino

Sources: BBC, UN News Centre, Human Rights Watch, The Guardian, Bloomberg
Photo: Human Rights Watch

fish drying
A new fish drying method pioneered by a tiny U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization project in Burundi has had tremendous results. Instead of laying the sardine-like ngagala in the hot sand, raised racks were implemented to dry the fish. This simple strategy has cut fish waste by half, created employment for hundreds of Burundians and caused a boost in the economic prospects of fishing.

Ndagala have been a staple of the Burundian diet for centuries. With some 60 percent of Burundians currently lacking the essential amount of protein in their diets, the nutrients from ndagala are a precious commodity.

However, before the FAO project, the ndagala drying process was wasteful, inefficient and extremely physically taxing.

The old method of drying the fish took place on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Burundi. Women laborers would lay the ndagala on the sand to dry in the sun, where they were easy targets for animals and ran the risk of being trampled and contaminated.

According to the FAO, around 15 percent of the fish catch was lost or spoiled during the drying process.

But 10 years ago, with the help of Burundi’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO launched a project in a village called Mvugo. This project installed 48 cheap wire-mesh racks suspended a meter above the ground, offered training and distributed leaflets on how to build the racks.

The benefits of this tiny project were almost immediately apparent.

This new method reduced drying time from three days, to only eight hours. The racks protect the fish from animals, and can be covered from the rain to prevent spoilage. Workers need not bend over to spread and turn the fish, reducing the physical toll of the labor.

The overall quality of the fish improved. According to rack owner Domitien Ndabaneze, “Our fishes are of a good quality without small gravel or stones and they are dried in hygienic conditions. With our products, customers are no longer concerned with eating sandy fish.”

The price of fish has more than doubled, from 4,000 Burundian francs in 2004 ($2.5/kg), to 9000 ($6/kg) in 2013. The increasingly lucrative trade has attracted more men workers, and the total acreage dedicated to fishing on the shores of Lake Tanganyika has expanded dramatically.

Manufacturers of the racks have sprung up on the coastline, and thanks to the increased shelf life of the fish they can be transported inland to feed other Burundi villages.

This impactful project is an example of how small-scale solutions can have large-scale benefits. The FAO plans to continually promote and strengthen the use of drying racks in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, in hopes that more villagers will experience the life-improving benefits of this simple invention.

–Grace Flaherty

Sources: FAO, UN
Photo: UN