Yesterday we sat on our balcony hearing repeated gunshots being fired for 20 minutes near the bridge less than a mile from our house. Again, we did one of the few things we are able to do, we prayed for peace, calm, restraint, wisdom and self-control for all those in Burundi. This is the position we find ourselves in, on the sidelines, highly affected, hurting, watching, yet helpless to do much other than pray, stand, hope for Burundi and those we have come to know and care about here.
For the past ten days there have been protests in Bujumbura as a result of the announcement on April 25 from the President’s party that he is to be their candidate to run for election in June. If you’ve seen any news of late you will know this announcement was met with a wide range of responses—some rejoiced, some fled Burundi into neighboring countries (up to 40,000 now), some took to the streets to protest, some moved into the interior of the country to be safe and some are just staying at home.
We are guests here. It is not our country. We are on the sidelines, bystanders. We have no vote, no political power or influence. We feel helpless as we see the fear and tension in those we know—colleagues, students, workers, neighbors, church members—due to the pain and loss they experienced because of the twelve years of civil war. The last thing Burundians want is to return to war, violence, fighting. Their collective past magnifies their fear such that much of Bujumbura has come to a stand still because of the uncertainty of what will happen over the next weeks coming up to elections.
The day-to-day business of life has been greatly affected: schools have been closed the past week and a half, shops have been closed or open shorter hours due to a lack of goods, services have been limited due to workers absenteeism. The University of Burundi sent its students home and closed the dorms for the remainder of the semester. HAU has also been closed especially due to protests in the two neighborhoods on either side of the campus. Traffic on the road is considerably less as people are not going to work or out of their houses so there is little need for motorcycle and bike-taxis. Seeking safety and unable to make a living, some have left the city returning to their family home in the interior.
Though we personally feel safe, our hearts are heavy with the grief, fear and stress we see in others and with how they are being affected by these events. We may be bystanders in that we are not their countrymen but we link arms with them and others around the world, beseeching our Heavenly Father to bring peace, restore safety, create trust and draw Burundians together.