Business, Finance & Economics

Burundi: Media defies ban on massacre


Relatives grieve after viewing the bodies of victims of the armed raiders in Burundi.


Esdras Ndikumana

Media outlets in the central African nation Burundi have defied a government-imposed edict banning coverage of the recent massacre in the country in which at least 36 people were killed, reports AFP.

Five Burundi radio stations and one private television channel aired discussions of the pub shooting in Gatumba, west of the capital Bujumbura, and now, it seems, may pay the consequences.

Concilie Nibigira, the country’s information minister, has said the breach by the media will be investigated because the government’s “decision must be respected.”

And these aren’t empty words. In 2010, Human Rights Watch counted eight human rights defenders and outspoken journalists arrested or otherwise harassed for challenging government wishes.

But more than just coverage of a tragic event, reportage of the bar shooting could have considerable impact on the future of the country.

The attack on the pub-goers — well known as a favorite among the ruling party — by armed men from its western neighbor Congo has raised fears that political conflict and violence will begin anew. Burundi is still recovering from a 12-year civil war in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed, according to the BBC. The war pitted Hutu rebel groups against the mainly Tutsi army.

A ceasefire was announced in 2006, and in 2009 one of the Hutu rebel groups, Forces for National Liberation (FNL), joined the government and relative peace followed. But last year much of the opposition, including the FNL, boycotted the presidential elections and accused the CNDD-FDD, a majority Hutu group, of fraud.

Analysts warn the subsequent fighting between the security forces and former militia fighters may result in a government campaign to wipe out FNL loyalists, according to The Guardian.

"Talk of a new rebellion is not exaggerated," said Thierry Vircoulon, central Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, according to The Guardian. “We have a real escalation in the fighting and it's getting closer to Bujumbura."

Though the government has not identified the attackers, rumors swirl that the gunmen traveling from the Congo were Burundian rebel fighters from the extremist Hutu rebel group. There have also been U.N. reports that that rebel group is gearing up in eastern Congo for war in Burundi, though the government denies it, according to the AP.

President Pierre Nkurunziza is making an attempt to minimize the incident’s significance. The ban on any coverage of the shooting may have been one tool. And the president’s rhetoric, referring to the gunman as mere “bandits” downplays any connection to FNL rebels.

But the repeated calls for an investigation may be a formality, too, which faces an uphill battle to produce any results. According to the United Nations, many other commissions of inquiry set up to investigate killings have yet to result in a prosecution.