Road to the Burundi Referendum 2018

On May 17 2018, Burundians will go to the polls for a referendum in which the people will decide whether or not the president’s term of office should be extended from five to seven years. The opposition in Burundi has seen this as a violation to the constitution and an attempt for the president to extend his rule to 2034. In the months leading to the referendum, there has been an increase in violence, hate speech, displacement and oppression of the media.

Official tells supporters to ‘Castrate the Enemy.’

There have been more occurrences of hate speech in Burundi in the past weeks. An official from the ruling party in Burundi called for the supporters of the ruling party to castrate of those that are against the referendum. This happened soon after Melchiade Nzopfabarushe, a former CNDD-FDD official made a speech that leaked on social media where he said that the opponents of the referendum should be thrown into Lake Tanganyika.[1] The president of the Burundian civic group Gerard Hakizimana, condemned the use of hate speech by the officials and said that all Burundians should live together in peace.[2]

Terrorist group kills 26

A total of 26 people in Burundi lost their lives over the weekend when a terrorist group attacked a village in an area called Cibitoke near Burundi’s border with the DRC. The minister of security in Burundi Alain Guillaume Bunyoni confirmed that twenty-four people were killed in the village while two others died on their way to the hospital. some of the survivors say that they were attacked by a group of armed men at about ten o’clock in the night. The men, shot at people, hacked some with machetes and set some of the houses on fire. The identity of the men and their motive is still unknown. This has happened less than a week to the May 17 referendum that could.[3]

Displacement of Burundians

The violence in the Burundi that has been has caused many of the people to flee from their homes for fear of their lives. Many have been forced to cross over to neighboring Rwanda to escape the beatings and killings that are being carried out by the Imbonerakure in Burundi. One such person is Aline Niragira who fled to Mahama refugee camp in Kirehe province in Rwanda that is home to about 64,000 Burundians. Aline said that she left after she was threatened by women from the ruling party who tried to make her join their campaign but she refused.[4]

Intimidation of the media

ON May 4 the, the national media regulatory authority suspended the BBC and VOA for six months from Burundi over breach of the press law. There have been more cases of journalists and reporters being treated harshly by the authorities in Burundi. The reporter Jean Bosco Ndarurenze was expelled from a ruling party meeting in Kirundo on 7 May and his recording equipment was confiscated. The same happened to Pacifique Cubahiro and his cameraman as they were trying to report on the killing of the 26 people in Chibitoke. They were only given back their equipment on condition that they delete what they had recorded. [5]

[1] “Burundi Watch Monthly Update – April” Atrocities Watch Africa, available at

[2] “’Castrate the enemy’: Violence grips Burundi ahead of vote,” 8 May 2018, ABC News available at

[3] “At least 26 people killed in overnight attack by ‘terrorist group’ in Burundi, officials say,”, 12 May 2018, The Independent, available at

[4] “’They’re killing them’: Burundians flee in fear of president’s power play,” 14 May 2018, available at

[5] “Harassment of Burundi’s media intensifies for referendum,” 16 May 2018, Reporters without Borders, available at