Baptists in Burundi have expressed grave concern as to the state of unrest in the East African country.
The unrest began in late April after Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in elections originally scheduled for June 26.
The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office, leading to widespread demonstrations in the capital, Bujumbura.
Juvenal Nzosaba, general secretary of the Union of Baptist Churches in Burundi, told the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) that more than 20 people have died, more than 100 were injured and about 600 have been arrested, among whom were children and youth participating in the protests.
More than 100,000 have fled the country while thousands more are internally displaced.
“We ask you to continue to pray for us because some have left their jobs, homes and churches,” he said. “Many people do not have food. It is a major problem.”
Nzosaba said the country’s supreme court declared Nkurunziza’s legitimacy to run for a third term, but opposition groups say the president’s actions jeopardize a peace deal that has kept ethnic tensions in check since the Burundian Civil War ended in 2005.
Opponents assert that Nkurunziza is not constitutionally permitted to seek a third term in office. A failed coup attempt occurred on May 13 while the president was in Kenya at meetings to resolve the issues in his country.
“The government, NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and others are telling Burundians to be calm and to look for peace so that they may enter the Election Day without obstacles,” Nzosaba said.
Burundi has some 50,000 Baptist members in approximately 300 churches affiliated with two BWA member organizations.
Elsewhere, Christian Aid partners are preparing to assist civilians caught up in the political unrest. Partners such as the Anglican Church in Burundi are procuring emergency supplies in key locations.
Should events escalate, these supplies can be distributed to internally displaced persons or vulnerable groups that may be affected, including women, children and people living with HIV.
“Christian Aid has worked in Burundi for many years, and our partners are rooted in the communities and are ready to act,” said James Robinson, Christian Aid country manager for Burundi.
“They will work with community leaders, health centers and local authorities to develop appropriate and adaptable contingency plans that will reach the most vulnerable in the event of a crisis. The political situation is rapidly evolving, so Christian Aid will be ready to help if things deteriorate. We continue to hope for a peaceful outcome.”
Paul Hobson is the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared in The Baptist Times and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulHobson10, The Baptist Times @BaptistTimes and the Baptist Union @BaptistUnionGB.