Two days ago, a general in Burundi’s military announced a coup d’état while President Nkurunziza attended a regional emergency security meeting of Heads of State in Tanzania.
This followed a couple weeks of unrest stemming from disagreement over the legality of the president’s intention to run for a third term. The Arusha Accords which ended the civil war, and the country’s constitution, incorporate a two-term limit. However President Nkurunziza and his supporters insist that since his first term followed a parliamentary rather than a general election, it should not count, leaving him one more term to contest for office. It seems that many citizens in the capital, Bujumbura, perceived the president’s intention to stand for re-election as a breach of democracy and so daily protest marches occurred. The police force, under presidential control, dismantled roadblocks and tear-gassed protestors. The military, a more neutral force, kept the police in check and allowed protests to continue. About 20 people died over the course of the protests, which in a country that has known genocide and chaos seemed like a relatively peaceful outcome. Our team in Bujumbura found themselves frequently stuck at home, as University classes were canceled and each day held uncertainty. They would hear gunfire, or see smoke rising from burning tires one hour, then drive through normal-life peaceful commerce the next. One family moved upcountry to join our rural team, and one couple stayed put. Crazily enough, the upcountry drive occurred just as the coup was announced which led to a couple hours of anxiety as we weren’t sure whether the announcement was the beginning of a war . . . the countryside is more pro-president while the city is more pro-protestor. However they arrived safely. Now we have 21 Sergers and a few other expat missionary-types bunkered in a small rural town where our primary clinical teaching occurs, and 2 adults in the capital. The borders closed, the airport closed, and essentially the country was without a clear government while everyone inhaled to see what would happen.
Today, the coup has been declared “failed”, as the portion of the military loyal to the president arrested the other part of the military loyal to the coup. Rumors are flying about where the president really is, who controls the airport and radio, what escape routes might be open. We are checking mail and news, making phone calls, holding security meetings, as each hour unfolds.
In between the announcement of the coup and the announcement of its failure, Burundi and much of the church around the world celebrated a holiday: Ascension Day. For forty days after Easter, Jesus walked and talked with his disciples, teaching about the Kingdom. They were waiting, daily, for the kind of political take-over they could understand. However on that 40th day, he ascended into clouds, to the throne of the Father. The Bible readings for Ascension day remind us that GOD IS ON THE THRONE, that GOD REIGNS OVER THE NATIONS (Psalm 47 and 93; Daniel 7).
Here we are like the bewildered disciples, staring into the sky, wondering. Clouds obscure our vision of glory. Presidents come and go, protestors celebrate and die, tanks roll down the streets, children play too close to bullets. We cannot place any confidence in the power of human government today, but we do know who reigns in that dimension beyond our sight.
Please pray for the country of Burundi. 99.9% of the people want only peace. Peace to move about the country, to hoe their gardens, to study, to visit friends, to sell wares, to beat drums (they are quite famous for this). Pray that the fear-mongering 0.1% would be defeated, that panic would not lead to violence. Pray for justice, pray for calm minds, pray that the Church would have a voice that reconciles and protects. Pray for our teams to make wise decisions. Pray for safe travel, if travel becomes an option, for those we would like to evacuate until the government stabilizes.
Pray we would remember that our God reigns.