Two years ago was Burundi the up and coming destination in Eastern Africa, when under the stewardship of Carmen Nibigira, then Director General of the Burundia National Tourist Office a new vision for the country was rolled out and the country was trending in Eastern Africa, buzzing with excitement over new initiatives.
The came the powergrab of President Nkurunziza for what most countries in the region, in Africa and across the world continue to view as illegal under the constitution of the country and under the Arusha Peace Agreement, which saw institutions manipulated and key opponents driven into exile before a sham election gave the regime a third term.
In the run up already, Ms. Nibigira had since left to complete her Ph.D. studies, were Visa regulations changed, demanding Visa in advance, ostensibly to keep journalists and suspected human rights activists out of the country, already leading to a free fall in tourist arrival numbers. The cost of initially 90 US Dollars, more recently downsized to 50 US Dollars, too contributed to visitors staying away from Burundi and the nascent tourism industry took a heavy beating.
Now has the United States’ State Department added to the country’s woes when yesterday a sharpish notice was published advising against all but essential travel to the country, which has descended into a cycle of pro and anti regime violence with both targeted and random killings.
The U.S. State Department continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Burundi and recommends U.S. citizens avoid non-essential travel. This Travel Warning also informs U.S. citizens that the Department of State has terminated the Ordered Departure status, allowing eligible family members and non-emergency personnel who departed Burundi to return. This replaces the Travel Warning issued on May 14.
Travel outside Bujumbura presents significant risks, especially after nightfall. The U.S. embassy limits and monitors the travel of its personnel in Burundi. All movement by embassy employees outside the city from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is prohibited. Likewise, U.S. citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn. Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura. Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up when stopped in heavy traffic.
Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected. Criminals who have bribed local officials may operate with impunity.
Coinciding with the ongoing World Travel Market in London, one of the worlds’ top travel trade shows, is this seen as the final nail in the coffin of Burundi’ tourism industry, with investments laying idle and accomplishments made two years ago crumbling into dust.
One contributor from Burundi, more regular in the past than now understandable, called the new ‘heartbreaking’ before adding ‘Can’t express my sadness’. Sad indeed and the East African Community block is also said to be quietly considering punitive action against the regime for last week’s horrendous treatment of visiting EAC Secretary General Dr. Richard Sezibera which provoked an instant diplomatic protest from the East African Community headquarters in Arusha to the Burundian regime. Watch this space for breaking and regular news about tourism across the East African region.