On Thursday, 19 February, Bob Rugurika returned triumphantly to Bujumbura.-By Dieudonné Hakizimana, Monia Bella Inakanyambo,Léandre Sikuyavuga &Philippe Ngendakumana, translated by Diane Uwimana
After the announcement of the release of Bob Rugurika from Muramvya prison, people poured in to Bujumbura from everywhere. The crowd spanned the city, from “Gare du Nord” on one side, to Bujumbura – Bugarama road at the far other side. This crowd awaited the arrival of the Director of African Public Radio (RPA).
In crowd included excited men, women, children and even babies, carried on their mothers’ backs. Everyone sang songs and chanted slogans in support of the RPA Director. Leaves and branches of different plants and trees were waved in the air, reminiscent of a Palm Sunday.
Spontaneous triumphant scenes!
By 9 a.m, the traffic was paralyzed. Security was not strengthened and with the in pouring of vehicles, the few police officers at the scene struggled to control the traffic. When Bob Rugurika’s procession arrived at the North Station roundabout in the North Station at 10 a.m, vehicles passing the other way could not pass. Some drivers parked at the roadside to allow the huge crowd accompanying the director of the RPA to pass by safely.
The headquarters of RPA besieged
The news of the release of journalist Bob Rugurika mobilized an unprecedented crowd of jubilant people who rebelled against the national police.
At around 8 a.m, people timidly began flocking to the RPA headquarters. Songs, joy and thanksgiving prayers could be heard.
Journalists at the scene talked with the population, and conducted interviews. Photos were taken, people waited patiently.
The national anthem at the arrival of Bob
When the crowd learned that Bob was approaching, the crowd erupted. Women layed down their “Kitenge” material pieces as a carpet to the entrance of the RPA as a carpet. All passing vehicles were covered with tree branches and green bags while everyone waited.
Finally, Bob Rugurika arrived – discreetly in an unmarked car – accompanied by Gabriel Rufyiri, President of the Olucome “the association of fighting against corruption and economic embezzlement).
When the crowd realized that the car held Bob, who was returning, they broke into song, and sang the national anthem “Burundi Bwacu“. Women cried, men shouted, and removed their t-shirts. The scenes were joyful and very emotional.
Joy to the fury
Until this moment, the police who until this time had helped to maintain order, then began to threaten the crowd, and ordered them to scatter. These threats were ignored by the jubilant, celebrating crowd. The only option for the police was to use force to control the people. Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, President of APRODH, arrived, and attempted to calm things down. He asked the Police Commander to wait before launching tear gas into the crowd. At this point, the police launched powerful water jets into the crowd to disperse it. The crowd retaliated by throwing stones at the police.
The water jets contained dyed blue water, and people caught in the water fire were covered. Their clothes became stained, and the outrage became quickly visible on their faces. Many journalists, including Gabriel Rufyiri were caught in this water fire. As the police continued their attack, the crowd became defiant and refused to leave the scene.
Three questions to Bob Rugurika
Bob, how do you feel following your release?
I feel great joy and a great sense of victory. This is the victory of the great and memorable journalists’ family. I feel of gratitude towards journalists and civil society who fought for my release. Those who arrested and imprisoned me were those who came to release me. I was a victim of injustice, like so many others. Fortunately, I had colleagues who appealed for justice.
Do you have a word on the matter for which you were imprisoned?
Oh! The people who imprisoned me were those involved in the killing of three nuns. I’m not afraid to say and to repeat it, and I pledge to continue to demonstrate. They probably thought that by arresting me the case would be buried and hidden, but they are wrong. The murderers will pay sooner or later.
What do you think of this mobilization of the population?
Burundi is undergoing a political and social evolution. Such overwhelming support which has been demonstrated has suggested to me that our people are maturing. Now, it will be difficult to quell the population of Burundi, as they are finding their voice. People are becoming aware of what they want and vocal about demanding it. And the media and civil society have both gained more respect from the population.
A crazy Wednesday
Wednesday was a crazy day. Upon the announcement of the release of Bob Rugurika, a huge crowd spontaneously converged to the RPA in defiance of the police.
At 11:30, the public heard that the Bujumbura Court of Appeal took the decision to provisionally release the RPA Director upon a bail of BIF 15 million. Suddenly and spontaneously a crowd poured on the roads. The group included cheering bikers, bike taxis, and fruit vendors, unemployed among others and they headed to the African Public Radio.
At 12.30, from the monument of democracy martyr to the building “Orée du Golf”, the general hustle and bustle could be heard. The enthusiastic crowd chanted “Long live to Bob, Long live to RPA”, “the truth will come to light”, “Finally justice has read the law”…
The police diverted the traffic: vehicles traveling from the airport and from the DRC journeyed through the Asian quarter to reach the town city. The atmosphere in the city centre felt electric.
By 1:30p.m., hundreds of young people were in the streets. Some wear jackets in green bags. Other waved green banana leaves, twigs, palm leaves. Many people wore the color green, this signifying prisoner clothes and the support for prisoners. The crowd passed by “Grand Bureau,” and sheltered among the Ministry of Home Affairs and Justice. They borrow the UPRONA’s Boulevard to join the crowd in front of the RPA HQ.
The police were surprised, and two riot police trucks turned up, scaring the jubilant crowd. Many ran into the RPA compound, and many ran off in different directions. The police calmly ask the RPA representative to request the crowd peacefully leave.
As they left, they were followed by the two riot police trucks. Using microphones, the officers on board of the truck ask the crowd to leave the place. Instead of departing, by curiosity, some rather approaching trucks. The police monitor carefully. The top of the Old East building, the Ambassador of the Netherlands observes the scene from the window of his office. The police then threatened to use force to scatter the crowd and all the protesters eventually left quietly go home.
The news comes as a cleaver
Just as defense lawyers were live on RPA airwaves, lamenting the refusal of the prosecutors to sign the agreement for Bob to release him, a police vehicle from Bujumbura arrived in Muramvya to move him furtively, in the middle of the night and to bring him to Bujumbura.
Bob Rugurika refused to get into the vehicle despite the police hard-handing and forceful encouragements.
The RPA radio station broadcasts the message from the RPA Director, to the transfixed national population who listened attentively and hung on his every word. “All day long, they refused to let me go despite the decision. Where do they now want to take me now, at night? Do they want to kill me now?” demanded Bob Rugurika, still in the Muramvya prison.
At the same time, the Minister of Home Affairs was at the National Radio and Television. Edouard Nduwimana said that security measures have been taken to prevent the release of Bob Rugurika to give rise to new spontaneous demonstrations. He was referring to those which had to Bujumbura after delivery of the decision of the provisional release of the director of RPA.
Finally, under pressure, the police let him return to his cell, where he spent another, and his final night in prison.