Tension Evident in Rural Burundi Ahead of Elections

June 17,2015

NGOZI. BURUNDI— Far from Bujumbura, the Burundian countryside seems little affected by the months of political protests and unrest in the capital city.

“It's quiet here," said Francois Nahimana, a resident of Ngozi, President Pierre Nkurunziza's hometown. "These troubles happen far away. We only heard about them on the radio. But we are scared that it could spread here, that it turns into a war throughout the country.”

In these hills surrounding Nkurunziza's home region, the president and his ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), still have significant support.

"He's done a lot of good things during the 10 years he’s been in power," said Desire, a local farmer. "He built schools, implemented free health care for children under 5, and our houses have been improved."

But critics say it isn't easy to speak out against the ruling party. One opposition supporter said he was threatened for showing others how to vote for their candidate.

“They were Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party," Joel Minani said. "They told me I didn't have the right to show people how to cast votes since the ruling party had already explained the process. They arrested me and demanded I meet conditions in order to be released.”

Opposition parties say they face intimidation and are harassed by the youth of the ruling party and the authorities, preventing them from campaigning.

"We didn't campaign because of the insecurity in the country. We couldn't do it," said opposition party member Emmanuel Icoyitungiye. "There have been abductions in broad daylight in various towns, and some of our members have been arrested."

Officials in the ruling party deny harassment allegations. They say that there might be small groups of violent people on both sides but they have nothing to do with the official line of the party.

Eighty percent of Burundians live in the countryside and their votes are expected to determine the outcome of the upcoming elections.