Social Media Crimps Dictator’s Style
Carmen Nibigira’s stellar work as Director General of the Burundi Tourism Office in 2014 when she made huge progress in putting the least-developed tourism country of the East African Community (EAC) on the regional and global map, has all but been destroyed by recent events in the country, when violence broke out in the streets of Bujumbura and over 20,000 people sought refuge in neighboring Rwanda.
More recent measures in regard to a visa for Burundi, driven solely by the aim of keeping human rights activists, investigative journalists, and others thought to be opposed to the regime leader’s attempt to serve another unconstitutional term of office, were recently greatly impacted when the regime had Internet service providers cut off all access to WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, causing incredulity across the region.
Said one source from Nairobi:
If a member of the East African Community can show such blatant disregard for human rights by cutting off common communication channels for fear of getting bad publicity and negative comments, it shows that not much has changed in our region since those absolute dictators like Amin in Uganda. Burundi is descending into a lawless state where the rule of law is tossed out for political expedience of a ruler who by hook or crook wants to stay in power. It is such despots which continue to give Africa a bad name and have the whole continent equated with anarchy, political oppression, and worse. It will also show that the EAC and the AU [African Union] are talk shops, because he will not be sanctioned or taken to task.
That country tried so hard last year to open up to tourism. They invited a lot of tour operators from the region to visit, and now all that has been wasted. Who wants to go to a country where as a tourist you need a visa in advance, and yet they have hardly any missions abroad? Who wants to go to such a place where there is bloodshed in the streets and where a strongman uses his army and militias to stay in power? In the EAC we have enough problems with the civil war in South Sudan already, but if Burundi also returns to civil war, it will be only Nkurunziza’s fault for his personal ambitions to stay in office when the terms of the Arusha Accord say that his time is up.
Similar sentiments were heard from across East Africa, but it was arguably the cutting of social media websites and the taking down of certain radio station’s transmissions which incensed most commentators, all sharply condemning the Burundian regime.
There is growing concern across the border in Rwanda now that if the influx of refugees continues at the current rate, the country will be overwhelmed by an unfolding crisis to house and feed the now over 20,000 people which have crossed the border as they seek to escape the unfolding violence and anticipated repercussions against opponents of plans by the regime leader to stay in power. UN agencies are said to be standing by and assembling supplies of tents, foodstuffs, and medical supplies to rush to the border region between Rwanda and Burundi to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and possible outbreak of disease.