Update: since the writing of this article, the outgoing president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, died on Monday 8 June 2020, of illness suspected to be Coronavirus. The president elect, Evariste Ndayishimiye, should be sworn in "as soon as possible", a court ruled on Friday 12 June.

There are currently 133,119 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the African continent. Many of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have avoided the worst affects of the pandemic, with far fewer deaths. Of those with BWAUK projects: Kenya now has 2,862 cases with 84 deaths, Rwanda, now has 439 with only 2 deaths, Sierra Leone has 969 cases with 48 deaths, Zimbabwe has 282 cases and 4 deaths. Burundi cites 83 cases, with just one death. However, as we noted in part one of this article on Burundi, there may be doubt about real totals in Burundi, as the government was anxious to say it was ‘business as usual’ in order for the national elections to go ahead.

No one was surprised when Evariste Ndayishimiye was declared the winner of the May national elections with a resounding 68.7% of the vote. There were many accusations of election fraud. For example, in Musigati commune (west), Ndayishimiye received 99.9% of the vote, which, according to an AFP calculation, would put the turnout rate at more than 102%.

These elections also took place under a climate of fear, as any critics of the ruling party faced the danger of being beaten up by the party’s youth wing ‘Imbonerakure’, which has been described as ‘a militia, operating with impunity’.

"Some children are dropping out of school because they don't have enough to eat."

Famine in Burundi

Against this chaotic background, the country was already shattered by terrible floods in February, which led to cholera and dysentery, and famine. Francoise Najean, director of CAPE (Centre d'Aide et de Protection de l'Enfant), BWAUK's partner in Burundi) said:  “The situation is very difficult. People just don't have enough to eat, particularly in Bujumbura, now that food prices have gone up. 1kg of beans went from 1,500 to 2,500 FBU (£0.65 to £1.07)” .

“The floods have made everything worse. Many people lost their houses and some people died and were injured, although we don't know the official numbers. Some children are now dropping out of school because they don't have enough to eat. Even the porridge we provide at school is not enough. The parents prefer to send them in the provinces, where they might have extended families with a small plot of land they cultivate. But that means that children are missing school and likely won't be able to return”.

Young child receives food and bread at his school in Burundi

Burundi is ranked among the three poorest countries in the world according to the World Bank, which estimates that 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to 65% when Mr. Nkurunziza came to power in 2005.

A new beginning, or an uncertain future?

Ndayishimiye will be sworn in in August*. He has promised to make the economic recovery of the country his priority and says he wants to reduce poverty, boost infrastructure projects and improve agriculture, considered the backbone of the economy. However, many question whether anything will change and fear remains  high among the population. Francoise’s last message to BWAUK summed this up: “No one knows what is going to happen next. We’re waiting to see”.

Against this backdrop, it is more important than ever for Bread and Water for Africa UK to keep supporting programmes, such as CAPE in Burundi, which provides free education, vital food and a safe place for some of the most vulnerable children in the country.

Please consider making a donation to our Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, so we can continue to support our partners during the crisis.

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By Daphne Davies, volunteer journalist.

*A court ruled Friday 20 June 2020 that Evariste Ndayishimiye should be sworn in "as soon as possible".