Gitega – The new Capital of Burundi: a new political calculation

In his usual comedian style, President Nkurunziza officially declared the small town of Gitega in the center of Burundi, as the new political capital, while maintaining Bujumbura as the economic capital. “Cabinet meetings will henceforth be held in Gitega, where five ministries will also be established from the start of 2019”. These ministries include the Interior, Education and Agriculture ministries, among others.

President Pierre Nkurunziza!

It is since March 2007; President Nkurunziza announced that Burundi had plans to transfer the capital from Bujumbura to Gitega. According to him, the central location of the city makes it “an ideal place to better serve the majority of the population”. It is not until 24 December 2018 (11 years later), that the Government of Burundi announced its decision to move the Administrative Capital from Bujumbura to Gitega. Why, now? It is worth recalling that China recently built a $20 million presidential palace in Bujumbura. Who is going to occupy this palace?

Gitega Province is located in central Burundi; it is one of the 18 Provinces of Burundi. Gitega is a central highland province along with Kayanza and Muramvya. It has a population of 725,223 as of 2008 and an area of 1,979 km2: (i) The principal airport is Gitega Airport which has an elevation of about 1,750 metres with a runway of 1,000 metres; (ii) Gitega Commune that harbors the small city center has 51,139 people, according to 2008 census; it doesn’t compare with Bujumbura which has a population of 1.2 million.

Many political activists have been enraged by the decision claiming the town is not ready to be a capital and the country is not economically prepared to move the five ministries.

Burundi is likely to fail moving entire government entities in Gitega due to the following factors:

  • almost all the entire Government officials are residing in Bujumbura;
  • the new capital has few, old and dilapidated infrastructure (like airport, museum, hospital, schools, accommodations, roads, buildings);
  • There are no available infrastructure to host ministries, workers and their families, schools etc.;
  • There is lack for transport facilities for civil servants, on daily basis, from the Bujumbura to Gitega which is a 2 h 9 min drive (99 km, via RN1 and RN2 roads) and this is almost impossible given the current/recurrent fuel shortages and economic hardship.

Many observers assess that declaring Gitega as the Administrative capital is President Nkurunziza’s political maneuver aimed at allying himself to CNDD FDD faction led by the current ruling party Secretary General, (Rtd) Gen Evariste NDAYISHIMIYE, in ongoing internal wrangles inside CNDD FDD, opposing President Nkurunziza to some of his strong Generals, namely:

  • Gen. Bunyoni (faction) who has strongholds in Bujumbura and in the Southern Burundi Provinces. He is often called Mutama 2 (or number two after the President). He has financial muscle and is considered a very big threat to Nkurunziza;
  • Cibitoke Province-led faction, composed of CNDD FDD, like: Maj. Gen. Etienne Ntakarutimana (alias Steve) the DG of SNR (National Intelligence); Deputy Commissioner of Police, Gen. Gervais Ndirakobuca (alias Ndakugarika); Gen. (Rtd) Godefroid Bizimana; Brig. Gen. Ildephonse Habarugira (alias Kinkongo); Brig. Gen. Audace Nduwumunsi (alias Goliat); Brig. Gen. Isidore Ndihokubwayo (alias Nankubade). The group sees itself as the CNDD FDD core/main-stream/founders.

These Generals are against President Nkurunziza’s plan to remain in power after 2020. They suspect President Nkurunziza has intentions to front his wife, Denise Bucumi as CNDD FDD presidential candidate in the upcoming Presidential election in 2020.

It is also worth noting that the recent decision by President Nkurunziza to build CNDD FDD Headquarters in Gitega was an affront to the Cibitoke faction, which expected their Province to harbor such infrastructures in acknowledgement of their contribution in their liberation struggle.

Meanwhile, recently President Nkurunziza nominated the Inspector General of Police, Melchiade Ruceke, who also hails from Gitega; hence reinforcing the Gitega group/faction composed among others, by: (i) Lt. Gen. Prime Niyongabo, the Army Chief of Staff; and (ii) Gen. Gabriel Nizigama (Commissioner of Police). President Nkurunziza has chosen to empower the Gitega Faction, which he assesses as less threatening, rational and flexible. He most likely intends to manipulate the Gitega Group in his favor.

By moving the capital, reckless thinkers could think that Nkurunziza is following in the footsteps of other African Heads of State like Tanzania and Nigeria, but what he missed out is that these countries shifted their Capitals after the investing billions dollar in developing new cities unlike Nkurunziza who seems to be acting before thinking.

It is expected that Nkurunziza will keep making such senseless and manipulative decisions as he heads towards the elections in an effort to divert the attention of Burundians and members of the international community on the deepening crisis in Burundi. This is all aimed at solidifying his grip on power. Let us wait and see!

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