As Burundi is heading towards its second post-conflict general election, political meetings are regularly organized and preparations active. While some see the elections with hope for change, others seem rather disappointed and have shown little interest in the campaign.
The Peace Village of Muriza is an interesting place to take opinions on the election, as it is made up of both returned refugees - largely Hutus -who fled to Tanzania during the violence in 1993, and also families who were internally displaced at the same time - in this case, mostly Tutsis. The Peace Village lies in the eastern province of Ruyigi, which was heavily affected by the ethnic violence. Now, over a decade later, meetings of different political parties alternate every weekend. "The CNDD-FDD party, Frodebu, MSD, FNL, Uprona, UPD parade here and tell us all about their good programs with attractive offers. We must act prudently and choose the party that best meets our daily concerns” says Innocent Nehere, a resident I meet there.
“Now we are the judges in these elections; the choice is free and the vote secret. We shall therefore choose the party which gets involved for a significant improvement of our livelihoods. If none of them promises to make better than the current ruling party, then we will vote again for CNDD-FDD because it has also made some good achievements” insisted Mamert Buregeya, another resident of Muriza.
In Nyakiga, the response to the people’s concerns draws the attention of everybody and the population strongly expresses their hopes for improved livelihoods “We shall vote for a party which is going to address our basic needs: food, safe water, healthcare and schools”, says Christine Nsabimana, a returnee from Tanzania.
If the above list of basic needs shows that Burundi has some serious social problems to resolve, it is at least heartening to know that ethnic-based politics is not as strong as it once was. According to people of Muriza, divisive messages have stopped being a successful campaign tactic; the level of suffering endured by the whole population of Burundi transcends any form of social, political or ethnic divide. “If any party would come to sow division among us, we would all get up as one single man to fight against it”, says Buregeya.
In the eastern province of Cankuzo, I met young people who are very angry toward the whole political class, but the upcoming elections did not seem to be their favourite topic of conversation. Abdul Manirakiza, a 27 year-old hairdresser at the Top living room Taata did not participate in 2005 elections and is not sure that he will this year either. Questioned about the reasons for his lack of interest in politics, Abdul answers that he doesn't have time to waste because after all there is never any change. This opinion is shared by his colleague Prosper who thinks that elections only benefit a small minority of the elected representatives and not the grassroots population.
Very distrustful towards politicians, the youth of Cankuzo are obviously disappointed by the political class. “The MPs elected in this commune do not even visit us! We see them very rarely during certain official ceremonies but they do not come to hear what are our main concerns are or share with what can be done to address them” said Abdul.
“We have now understood the game, they come to find votes among us and once elected, and they ignore us. This time, we will not vote for them because it’s useless”, added a motorbike-driver in a hot-tempered tone.
When hearing the opinion of Cankuzo’s youth on politics, it’s clear that politicians will have to make a huge effort to regain the trust of a group of people who constantly struggling for their survival through small income-generating activities and business.
However, some young persons continue to actively campaigning with different political parties. Violent clashes have been reported in certain provinces between young activists of the main political parties, especially during demonstrations and massive sports rallies organized during weekends. This fact is immensely troubling to the wider population who fear a violent electoral period in the months ahead.
Muriza commune, where residents are resisting attempts to use divisive politics.