A Key Day in Burundi’s History?

In the current crisis, I’ve written my blogs and posted things to FB or Twitter whilst trying to retain a neutral voice, whatever my personal opinion, and I’ll continue to do so, all the more as things remain far from clear and change very quickly in this part of the world. Here’s how the last twelve hours have gone:

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(Police with guns v protestors with stones – most police did a very good job over the last two weeks)

We all knew it was an important day. In the last two days, both Belgium and the EU had suspended aid, including money for the elections to take place, so the noose was seemingly tightening. Pierre Nkurunziza, under pressure from all sides, had agreed to fly to Tanzania for a regional Heads of State summit. Several of them are in the similar situation of wanting to stay longer than their constitutions would seem to allow, so everyone was waiting for the outcome of the meeting. From my perspective, I couldn’t see a positive one – if they gave him tacit approval to continue for a third term, the opposition with all their demonstrators would be seething mad and would redouble their attempts to force change. If the presidents told him not to, that would only fan the flames of zeal and legitimacy in the protestors’ minds.

I had breakfast and chatted with Michel and Sandrine, newlyweds who have been staying in our house because of their traumatic experiences of relentless shooting in their part of town. Eric, our day guard, rang to say there was no way for him to get to work as he’d been sent packing at a roadblock. The opposition was trying to paralyse the whole capital so that nobody could go to work. A number of vehicles had been burnt as an incentive to keep off the streets. Leaving on my motorbike, I had to negotiate three rock-laden barricades within 200 yards of our house to get to my office. The men at each barrier were polite but unhappy with my proceeding. I asked if it was OK. They said I should wait until 10am, but as my office was a stone’s throw away, in the end they let me through.

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(A common sight over the last few weeks)

As usual, I got straight on Twitter to see what was happening around town. Apparently three were already dead in Kabondo, near where the kids’ school is. Protestors had made it to the centre of town in reasonable numbers, especially women, and there was teargas and some live rounds being used. In Musaga there was shooting too. These folks were clearly adding pressure to the President in Tanzania as talks were about to take place there.

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(Women playing an important peaceful role – teargas soon followed)
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(3 dead in the morning, this is 500m from the kids’s school)

I skyped with Lizzie back in England. The kids had just been dropped off for their second day at King’s School and it looks like they’re settling in superbly – thank you Lord for such a smooth transition at this weird time of their lives. I asked about Jos’ bronchoscopy, which might have been done today, but it turns out yesterday he had a coughing fit and said he saw something come out. Straight after that his breathing got better! Thousands of people have been praying for him, so can we claim a miracle there?! Hopefully no invasive bronchoscopy will now be needed, but Lizzie will do the sensible thing and go and have him checked out by the GP. Zac’s comment about sports day was interesting. Hearing that for races they’d use a firing pistol, he said: “I don’t want to hear any more shooting.”

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(Of course I’m biased, but these are seriously cute kids!)

Freddy, the lad who fell in a fire years ago and whom we’ve helped have multiple plastic surgeries to help rebuild his face and hands, arrived from upcountry, walking the last 15km because of the roadblocks. As I waited for him, I spoke to the protestors: “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a doctor.” “I’m a systems analyst.” “What will you do if things today don’t pan out as you’d hope?” “We’ll carry on with the revolution.”

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(Freddy, gifted young man, thriving in school after so much pain in his life)

After lunch with Freddy, who is coming first in his university class, I went for a lie-down and read. After a while I heard the jeers of what I presumed was a gang of demonstrators jogging past, as is so often the case these days. But suddenly the noise was everywhere – because just about everyone was listening to the radio, so heard the news at the same time. I rushed out onto the street. “Has he resigned?” I asked breathlessly. “No, there’s been a coup!” Neighbours were hugging and cheering and high-fiving. My heart was thumping in my chest, knowing how significant this was. Coup attempts are rarely straightforward, so I jumped on the motorbike and as I weaved my way to the office, I was cheered along and slapped on the back by jubilant crowds.

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(General Niyombare leading the coup – his son goes to our partner YFC’s GIA school)
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(Radio’s the first place you go to broadcast taking control – the national radio station is still under loyalists’ control)

I quickly got an email out to the masses to get people praying. Privat rang to say that things were kicking off where he was. That is what I’m anxious about. The ruling party’s faithful, particularly the youth wing, are surely not going to take this lying down. Another friend rang to say I should get myself indoors. But honestly, at this stage there was just so much joy in the air that I thought it would be safe, and so I took Alli on the back with me and we had an extraordinary ride into and around town. Thousands were heading there. Barricades were all removed now, and cars were tooting their horns and hanging branches out of windows. Sheer delight was to be seen on almost all faces, apart from police and army, who no doubt had to keep on their guard and professional. At one stage we got caught up in a dancing mass of people, which was nerve-wracking for a few moments, but they peeled away for us, and we made our way home, having seen a dead policeman with a crowd gathered around him.

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(Crowds everywhere celebrating, including the very popular army, which has a critical role to play in the coming days)

The airport has been closed, all borders shut, and pronouncements from the Presidents office deny the coup was successful and say the President will fly back in shortly. That’s the state of play as I write at 830pm, although we now think the President’s plane has turned back around. As we go to bed in a few hours, nobody really knows what is happening, there are many unanswered questions, and the road ahead for Burundi is as uncertain as ever. Please keep the prayers coming. God bless Burundi and all Burundians! Let’s see change, however it looks, happen peacefully…

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