Alexis Sinduhije enters politics in Burundi
I first met Alexis Sinduhije in Oxford in the summer of 2002. He was visiting the UK to meet with international donors who’d been supporting his groundbreaking radio project in Burundi, Radio Publique Africaine. RPA distinguished itself by taking on ex-combatants both from the Tutsi-dominated national army and from the Hutu-led rebel militias, and training them to work together as journalists. Not only was this useful as an exercise in “peacebuilding”, it had also given the radio station excellent contacts with all the major parties to the conflict. With a growing reputation for exposing abuses and corruption on both sides of the conflict, RPA quickly became one of the most listened to radio stations in the country.
Over the years, RPA has repeatedly covered the “Titanic Express” case, but the most memorable occasion in my mind was the live interview that Alexis did with my mother towards the end of 2002, where she called for justice over the massacre in which Charlotte died. It was after this broadcast that we first heard about the leak of the FNL’s detailed report of the Titanic Express attack, signed by the commander of the battalion responsible, which is still one of the most important pieces of evidence we have of the group’s involvement.
During his career as a journalist, Alexis has been arrested and beaten up, had shots fired at his house, and been threatened on numerous occasions. Things became particularly heated in August 2006, when the ruling CNDD-FDD government falsely claimed to have uncovered a coup plot, and arrested senior politicians from every major opposition party. Alexis was openly incredulous, challenging the government to produce the evidence. In response, the authorities stepped up their harrassment of RPA and other independent media who echoed Alexis’s comments. But Burundi’s journalists had done enough to focus the international spotlight on what was going on, and within months the government had been forced to back down.
Alexis announced his candidature in December last year, but this is the first in-depth interview I’ve seen where he talks in English about what he’s trying to achieve. He has always taken a very strong line on the need end the culture of impunity in Burundi, by bringing to justice those on all sides who have committed abuses. In the interview above, he talks candidly about the need to bring to account the hitherto “untouchable” Tutsi politicians and army officers who orchestrated the 1972 genocide of educated Hutu, alongside those implicated in more recent crimes – and the dangers inherent in taking such a position. Alexis Sinduhije’s work has been admired by many people around the world and while it seems impossible to know what the outcome will be, I know that he will have plenty of well-wishers, both internationally and in Burundi.