I have tried my best to objectively follow the Burundi story for a while now. On my Twitter feed I follow both pro and anti-Nkurunziza tweeps. I prefer to call them anti-Nkurunziza tweeps because at the moment it is quite unfair to just focus on the ‘third term’ debate. Things may have been sparked by the third term issue but like a hydra it has grown into something much bigger and complex.
The group that supports President Pierre Nkurunziza have their valid points about the first term not counting thus making their man eligible to contest in the next election. All across Africa, constitutions are designed to restart the clock so that counting starts with the first election under the new constitution. So Burundi is not really an exception despite the spirit of the Arusha accords.
It is also true that under Nkurunziza things have been improving in Burundi although the pace was slower than people’s expectations. A few days back I listened to bus drivers at Nyabugogo Bus Park talking about how it was during Nkurunziza’s time that they got to be able to drive a bus from Kampala all the way to Bujumbura without worrying about roadblocks.
However we cannot ignore the fact that right now Burundi ticks all the typical boxes of the sick Africa that the Western media has obsessed about for decades.
A failed military coup, protesters being shot on the streets, media houses being shut down, over 100,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and many now dying of cholera in overcrowded camps in Tanzania.
Many countries have evacuated their people and the donors have promised to cut aid if Nkurunziza goes ahead with the elections. The economy is at its worst with tax collection stalling and public transport interrupted in many places.
Those in the rural areas are worried that by the time they harvest their produce there will probably be no market for it. With many refugees coming from rural areas, you can already picture abandoned gardens being taken over by weeds.
Obviously the president and those around him insist that all is fine and to prove that we have seen Pierre Nkurunziza in Lionel Messi-like Kodak moments.
According to them, if anything seems wrong then blame it on the media. Of course, we journalists just love creating stories about the suffering of other people to compensate for our failed dreams of nailing that blockbuster fiction novel set in an African jungle.
At the end of the day it is all about a man’s ambitions to stay in power no matter what. We all have ambitions and there is nothing wrong with that. But the words of Goodluck Jonathan soon after the conceding defeat in the last general election in Nigeria ring a bell. “My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian,” he said. Words that made the world forgive him for most of the short comings and flatteringly refer to him as an African hero (yes the expectations are that low).
If I had a moment with Nkurunziza I would ask him whether his ambitions are worth the price that Burundi is paying at the moment. I would ask him how he plans to oversee an election with citizens fleeing the country and others protesting. I would love to hear how he intends to fund an election that usual financiers are not willing to pay for and yet the economy is on its knees as well.
In the region, Burundi has experienced the highest number of coups but at the same time it has the highest number of former leaders living peacefully in the country. I find this fact quite encouraging as it could imply that if tomorrow Nkurunziza decided to throw in the towel then he too would retire to his home and not have to flee like the thousands of refugees in camps in Rwanda and Tanzania.
I cannot claim to know what he thinks but right now I think he is squandering the chance to leave the pitch as a top scorer. Like Zinedine Zindane, he is edging towards a head butting incident that will stain his legacy irreparably. Any good dancer will tell you that the best time to leave the floor is when the music is still playing. I hope all this ends well for everyone so we can get back the happy and growing Burundi.