Burundi is descending into violence. Attacks on villages and targeted assassinations are increasing. A new rebel group has been formed to challenge President Nkurunziza. Our reporters went to meet its leader in the mountains of South Kivu, in the DRC. This is the first time he has agreed to speak to journalists.
Thursday December 1st was the first day that our Reporters on the new rebellion and political tensions in Burundi was to be broadcast. But suddenly, FRANCE 24 was cut off in the country. I received many phone calls from Burundians frustrated at missing the programme. They have so few opportunities to see reports on their country in the international media.
I had been thinking about the subject for several months. Burundi is gradually sinking into a new war, but no one, or almost is talking about it. It must be said that Burundi, nestled in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes, between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is of little interest to the international community. It is one of the continent’s smallest countries, it is not rich in natural resources, and it has a limited regional role. The tragic history of Burundi has not had the same media impact as the genocide and conflict in neighbouring Rwanda.
So when a new rebel group, the Fronatu Tabara, is formed and begins to publish online statements, I seize the chance. The conflict materialises - a good starting point for a report. But I want to approach and meet the rebels. Several weeks of preparation are necessary. The armed men are reticent, they fear falling into a trap.
A meeting across the border
Finally, we manage to establish contact. The rebels give us the green light. But it is only once we arrive in Bujumbura at the beginning of November that we find out the details of the meeting. It will in fact take place on the other side of Lake Tanganyika, in the east of the DRC. We will need to climb up to the highlands of South Kivu, as this is where the armed group has installed its rear base.
We are due to meet our "escorts" in Uvira, Bujumbura’s twin town on the Congolese side. But our departure is postponed several times. It is the height of the electoral period in DRC, and President Joseph Kabila is campaigning in the region. Controls by Congolese soldiers have increased.
Two days of walking
It is difficult to be inconspicuous, since FRANCE 24’s viewers will recognise me. This slows down our crossing of the Congolese border.
After several failed attempts, we finally reach the other side of the border with our guides, at the foot of the mountains. We are told the rebels are only thee hours’ walk away, and that we should arrive by nightfall. I reassure myself that I can manage the trek. In actual fact, it will take us two long days of walking to get to our meeting point.
We finally arrive. It is several hours after nightfall when, suddenly, around twenty armed men descend on the village. These are the rebels we are to meet.
A special report by Pauline Simonet and Julien Sauvaget.