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Street clashes in Burundi over upcoming elections cause thousands to flee


20 May 2015

“We are facing a terrible security situation,” a Burundian church leader told Barnabas as demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to serve a third term continue. Weeks of street clashes have left over 20 people dead and many more injured, while at least 110,000 people have fled the country.

Christians in Burundi meet together to worship
Christians in Burundi meet together to worship

Parliamentary elections slated for 26 May have been postponed to 5 June and the presidential poll scheduled for 26 June may also now be postponed. According to the country’s constitution and a peace deal brokered in 2006, the president cannot stand for a third term. President Nkurunziza claims his first term should not count as he was not specifically elected by the people, but by the parliament.

Burundi continues to recover from years of civil war following the ethnically-driven massacres during the 1990s shared with neighbouring Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed within 100 days in 1994. Ever since, Burundian Muslims have adopted a more strategic process for Islamising the mainly Christian country, a measure that began in the urban centres and is now increasingly prevalent throughout rural Burundi.

In urban areas, Muslims often live together, occupying particular zones of the town and separating themselves from the rest of the population. Christians attempting to live in these areas are often harassed to the point of fleeing. Muslims who choose to leave Islam and turn to Christ are marginalised from their community.

Targeting specific villages, Muslims often prepare public events to persuade Christians to convert to Islam. They use DVDs and dramas to disparage Christian doctrines and insult Christianity. Once they have convinced some villagers to convert, they immediately begin to construct a mosque in the village. These mosques are beautifully built, standing in stark contrast to the often poor (and sometimes absent) church buildings.

Burundian Muslims are involved in the provision of material and financial assistance to people who are particularly impoverished - another way of enticing people to convert to Islam. And in order to obtain greater influence within government structures, many Muslim schools and universities have been built to prepare future leaders. These schools permit Christians to enrol, but under strict conditions. Students are not permitted to practice Christianity; instead they are forced to adopt Muslim clothing and learn about Islamic religion.