Article written

  • on 29.06.2015
  • at 12:58 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

As Burundi goes to the polls, journalism is a high-risk job 0

Bujumbura – For the families of journalists like me in Burundi, life has been hell these past few weeks, especially since street protests began in April against the president’s plans to run for a third term.

Children haven’t been to school since then. Every day my son asks me when he do will do his homework. He remembers that the demonstrations started as he come home one Friday with a homework assignment. One day I had to ask his headmaster to open the school gates for a few minutes just so he could go in and feel some relief. It didn’t work.

The official discourse is reassuring, but the economic, political and social decline continues.

Our families don’t understand how we can choose this career. “This job is death,” my sister told me recently.

“Papa, did they shoot at your computer,” my son asked me once. My boy likes computers. Many journalists had their computers riddled with bullets after private media houses were attacked in the wake of a failed coup bid in May.

“Son, it’s time to do something else. I’m afraid for you,” said my mother in a tearful phone conversation recently.

For journalists working for private or foreign media, it’s as if our work has become a crime.

But think the whole community is under threat. Today it’s journalists; tomorrow it could be shopkeepers, or doctors.

As a journalist and citizen I had always hoped that what’s happening now would not come to pass in Burundi. Events seem to evoke the old demons of destruction and violence. (Civil war ravaged Burundi between 1993 and 2005.)  Even before today’s legislative polls, the elections had already claimed victims: tens of thousands of people have fled the country and many have also taken flight inside.

Ever since the coup bid, reporters have gone into hiding, including myself as well as colleagues from both private and state media.  I personally chose not to leave Burundi for a neighbouring country, but around 50 journalists have fled and some are living in refugee camps.

The closure of private media “is a major setback for freedom of expression, because there are no more voices that contradict those of the government, no more independent sources about what is happening now,” Jean Regis Nduwimana, a professor of communications, told me.

He added that he feared the country was at risk of falling prey to “a quasi-totalitarian regime which only wants to hear its own voice heard on state media.”

Continue reading on IRIN News

by Désiré Nimubona

Photo Credit: Flickr/Igor Rugwiza

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