Burundi sees increasing sacralization of political discourse

According to its constitution, the Eastern African nation of Burundi is a secular state, but the discourse of the country’s political leadership is permeated with religious references, reports the French Observatoire Pharos (November 22), based on information from local media. Religion is being turned into a public and political issue. An evangelical vocabulary is being used in calling for peace, development and political stability. Religion is a resource used by political leaders—starting with President Evariste Ndayishimiye—for attempting to moralize public life. Religious moral values are supposed to instill a work ethic and bring economic and social growth. There are also hopes that it might help to reduce ethnic cleavages. This is a continuation and intensification of processes already observed during the previous decade. The late previous president, Pierre Nkurunziza (d. 2020), was an evangelical believer who relied on a network of evangelical churches for support, and his widow still is the pastor of a church in the capital, Bujumbura.

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The vibrant religious life involves competition between different political figures to gain the support of influential churches, reports Africa Intelligence (September 22). Competition between churches can also be a source of tensions, and some cultivate special relations with specific political figures. While evangelical churches in Burundi tend to be very political, the Protestant share of the population is estimated at about 25 percent, while Roman Catholics represent about 60 percent of Burundians. In search of new alliances, Ndayishimiye is continuing his rapprochement with the Catholic Church, after more difficult relations between his predecessor and Catholic clergy. Cultivating the right connections with churches, keeping them under control, and using a religious vocabulary as a tool for transformation are thus important political issues in Burundi.

(Observatoire Pharos, https://www.observatoirepharos.com/; Africa Intelligence, https://www.africaintelligence.com/)