A protester in Bujumbura, Burundi, added to a barricade at a demonstration against the country’s president on Friday Credit Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency
BUJUMBURA, Burundi — In a circular ward of the Prince Regent Charles Hospital, a facility that speaks of better days in this central African country, Armel Manirambona lay on a bed under a white blanket that covered a bullet wound in his abdomen and damage to his colon and liver.
“We were running in the street, and then I was shot,” said Mr. Manirambona, 27, an information technology worker with a university degree who lives in the Buterere neighborhood in Bujumbura, the capital. “I don’t remember anything.”
Mr. Manirambona is one of scores of people who have been wounded in recent days while demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose pursuit of a third term in office has thrown the country into crisis. The protests have been met harshly by security forces, and at least 20 people have been killed, including two on Thursday, the Red Cross reported.
Mr. Nkurunziza’s bid, announced on April 25, is raising questions because the Constitution says a president’s five-year mandate may be renewed only once. His contention, rejected by opponents, is that his first term should not count toward the limit because he was initially elected in 2005 by Parliament, not voters.
After almost a month of daily protests and the failure of a coup attempt on May 14, the crisis has begun to take a severe toll on the economy and daily life of the country, and seems only to be getting worse.
Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries, depends on foreign aid for more than half of its national budget. On Thursday, Belgium, the country’s biggest donor and former colonial ruler, warned Mr. Nkurunziza that it would cut off all aid if he went ahead with plans to run in the election, scheduled for June.
“A third presidential term would stain at the highest level the legitimacy of the Burundi executive, and would make the completion of the bilateral program impossible,” the Belgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The country’s currency, the Burundian franc, has been falling against the dollar, prompting many Burundians to rush to exchange francs for hard currency before it weakens further. Analysts say the country’s tax collection system has ceased to function, imperiling the livelihoods of tens of thousands of government employees in the capital and other cities.
“The government will not be able to pay salaries,” said Gilbert Niyongabo, a professor of economics at the University of Burundi.
Rural areas will be slower to feel the effects of the crisis, Professor Niyongabo said, but come harvest season, “there will be no customers for the agricultural products.”
“We expect an economic collapse in a month,” he said.
The unrest has already disrupted business in Bujumbura. At the normally busy La Faveur supermarket in the center of the city, workers stood this week waiting for shoppers who did not come, while the perishable food on the store’s shelves sat spoiling.
“We have no customers now, and workers come late because there is no public transportation,” said Joselyne Niyondiko, 25, a cashier.
“And most of us have not got our April salaries yet,” added Stone Siniremera, 23, a store clerk.
Many residents of neighborhoods where the demonstrations have been intense are blocked from going to work by protesters, who say life cannot go on as normal.
“We support the protests,” said Hakizimana Fides, 35, a mother of three who was stopped by young men in the Musaga area. “But our employers will not understand.”
International humanitarian groups are trying to alleviate the situation. Mr. Manirambona, the wounded protester, is receiving financial help for his medical treatment, which his family, like many others, could not otherwise afford.
Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity, “is supporting hospital fees in four public hospitals,” said Bruno Duchene, the group’s chief of mission in Burundi.
Many people here fear that there may be worse to come, especially if the unrest, which has been largely political so far, takes on an ethnic dimension. During the 12-year civil war from 1993 to 2005, fighting between the country’s two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi, left 300,000 people dead, and the two groups have also clashed in neighboring Rwanda.
The Arusha accords that ended the war in Burundi put in place power-sharing arrangements that kept the country relatively peaceful for a decade, but they may now be imperiled, especially in the ranks of the army.
“Some would like to promote an ethnic war,” said Paul Nkunzimana, a sociology professor at the University of Burundi, whose campus has been empty of students since the crisis started.
The United Nations estimates that at least 100,000 Burundian refugees are in neighboring countries, including more than 64,000 who have left since the beginning of May. Many of them are in overcrowded and unsanitary camps, and cholera has broken out among refugees in the Kigoma area of Tanzania, the United Nations refugee agency said in a statement on Friday.
At the Burundi Immigration Office, hundreds of people lined up early this week hoping to obtain or renew travel documents and passports so they can leave the country.
“I want to go to Rwanda,” said Clementine Niyonkuru, 22, who said she made the decision after seeing photos of people killed in the protests that were posted on social media. She said she already had her own documents, but needed to get them for her 3-month-old daughter.
“I will come back when this situation ends,” she said.
Tresor Ismael, 22, a university student, was applying for the first time, and was not shy about why.
NYT has lots of photos and sad stories, but they leave out one extremely important statistic: The average Burundi woman has over six kids in her lifetime. They are #3 in the world (after Niger and Mali).
The reference to civil war and Rwanda is another reminder of what overpopulation can do. No government or aid agency can help in face of such a steep increase in population.
I’ve mentioned this before, and perhaps I will excerpt part of it (although it would mean a lot of typing), even a left-wing writer like Jared Diamond discusses it in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.