KIGALI — Burundi-born Eric Ndayisenga and his friends in exile religiously listen to a radio station that urges liberation from the deadly political violence back home. One day the report brought grief instead.
His sister Zainabu and a friend had been found dead, stabbed and their throats slit, in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
Ndayisenga believes his sister’s fate would have been unknown if not reported by the station linked to the Forebu rebel group, supported by exiles who press the international community to act on Burundi’s crisis.
Hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled the small East African nation in the two years since President Pierre Nkurunziza set off protests by declaring he would seek another term. After the armed forces put down an attempted coup, he won election amid alleged revenge killings and the unrest has continued.
The country returned to the spotlight this month when six Burundian teenagers disappeared after an international robotics competition in Washington. It remains unclear why they acted, but the director of a school that sent two of the teens said it’s likely because life is hard at home.
Other Burundian exiles are trying to build opposition to Nkurunziza, highlighting crimes they say are committed by the security forces and armed groups loyal to the government. In the rebel-backed radio known as MbohozaGihugu, which means “liberate the country,” some exiles say they have found a voice.
In Kigali, the capital of neighboring Rwanda where the exiles feel safe, scores of Burundians set up a bar in whose dark corners they meet regularly to follow broadcasts. Though it appears that a once-serious threat to oust Nkurunziza has fizzled, they hope to isolate the president by rallying international opinion.
“Every struggle has its risks and this is the right time to pay that price and chase away Nkurunziza,” Ndayisenga said.
The online activist group iBurundi, with over 18,000 followers on Twitter, says the focus is on “showing government abuses.” Though the shootings and bomb blasts that once characterized life in Bujumbura are fewer now, “repression continues in a stealth way,” the group told The Associated Press.
Many non-governmental organizations that once monitored government activities have been suspended or have seen leadership flee into exile, said Yolande Bouka, an independent analyst now based in the United States.
The international community recently expressed alarm about videos showing pro-government youth militia members singing about impregnating the regime’s opponents and comparing the opposition to lice.
Burundi’s government vehemently denies allegations it tortures and kills its critics, and says it is the victim of propaganda by its opponents in exile.