By Eugene Niyoyankunze
Four years have elapsed since the May 13, 2015 coup attempt, but Burundi’s president is yet to leave the country even once.
President Pierre Nkurunziza also devotes little time to Bujumbura, the capital city. It is obvious he does not like the city — considered a bastion of the opposition.
Since taking office, Nkurunziza has had a palace built in Ngozi, where he was born. Ngozi, the city of vertiginous growth on the northeastern shore of Lake Tanganyika.is where loyalists go to pay homage to the president-pastor-footballer, the beloved of the people. It is an hour’s drive to Gitega, the designated new political capital of Burundi.
Nearly 12 years ago, Nkurunziza pledged to move Burundi’s capital to Gitega, citing its central position in relation to Bujumbura, although the population does not exceed 30,000 out of the country’s 12 million inhabitants. Gitega was once the capital of the Burundian monarchy. Nkurunziza finds it geographically more central to Burundi, but the opposition accuses him of attempting a symbolic restoration of the monarchy.
“Cabinet meetings will now take place in Gitega, where five ministries will also be set up from the beginning of 2019,” the president’s spokesman announced, adding that five ministries – including health, interior, education, agriculture and decentralisation – would be relocated. In addition, some commissions such as the CENI, the CVR and the CNIDH will move to Gitega and other provinces.
Six of the buildings into which departments are being moved were built when President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza was in power, with a view to making Gitega the political capital of Burundi.
Athanase Karayenga, the former president’s communications adviser, said Bagaza was close to declaring Gitega as the capital of Burundi.
Bujumbura is considered exposed from a security point of view and within reach of the cannons of Uvira, or the plaisn of Rusizi on side of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On January 16, 2019 the National Assembly adopted a Bill fixing the political and economic capital, followed by the Senate the following day. It only remains for President Nkurunziza to declare that Gitega is legally the political capital of Burundi.
At the Kigobe Palace of Congress, Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye said that the move to the new capital would be a process: “The image of the political capital, we will not have it immediately after the vote.” He estimated that the process would be completed in three years.
Members of Parliament confirmed that Gitega is not yet ready to accommodate all the services that have to move. Pascal Nyabenda, the president of the National Assembly, said: “It is obvious that the preparations are not yet complete.”
On New Year’s Eve in 2018, President Nkurunziza announced that some services would be relocated to Gitega in the following year. All councils of ministers will be held in Gitega.
President Nkurunziza has already told the country that the inauguration of the President elected in 2020 will take place in Gitega “in the presence of the people”.
Before it welcomed its first settlers, Gitega had long been the capital of the drum — Ingoma — symbol of royalty and power.
Elysé Ndayihaya, a young lawyer living in Bujumbura, the move from the capital to Gitega is a good project. “It is in the centre of the country, it is easily accessible compared to Bujumbura for all Burundians, no matter where they are established.” In addition, Gitega is less hot than Bujumbura.
However, the government decision to transfer the capital when the construction of the Gasenyi I Palace had just been completed has raised a great deal of rancour.
For Ndayihaya, it is legitimate to ask why the authorities have dispossessed the inhabitants of Gasenyi I for the construction of a presidential palace.
Residents of Gasenyi I had to give up their plots for Chinese contractors to construct the new $20 million presidential palace in Bujumbura and are still bitter about being displaced without compensation (http://www.iwacu-burundi.org/gasenyi-i-yes-look-for-their-maisons-can-trade-for-a-palais/).
Although many Burundians have welcomed the decision to move the country’s political capital to Gitega, the many challenges of relocation have called into question plans to execute the project.
Gitega faces several challenges, including the lack of infrastructure – airports, schools, conference rooms, hotels, residential houses, repetitive water cuts, etc.
The change of capital involves the relocation of services, disruption of family life for officials based in Bujumbura.
Jean (pseudonym), an executive at the Ministry of the Interior, indicates that some officials will have to rent two houses in case of relocation: One for the family in Bujumbura; and the other because of the service in Gitega. Others, in addition to repaying mortgages on their homes in Bujumbura, will have to bear the burden of rent.
The Senate, which began moving on January 18 and was expected to complete its transfer at end on February 1, was due to occupy four buildings. The plenary sessions were to be held in the multipurpose room of the Gitega commune, opposite the communal office. Members of the Senate will occupy the building of the Burundian Office for Environmental Protection (OBPE). Each of the 39 senators will be entitled to an office in two of the buildings in the provincial capital.
Plans to modernise Bujumbura by 2045, extending the city to the provinces of Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza, hang in the balance. At the launch of the plan in November 2017, President Nkurunziza — inspired by Singapore — said the city would be divided into three parts, including an administrative section.