Burundian artists have condemned a recent decision from the state-funded communications watchdog that will ban any song that has not received permission from the authorities from being played on local media.
Burundi's 18-month deadly conflict pits supporters of President Pierre Nkurunziza against those who say that his re-election in July 2015 for a third term violated the nation's constitution. The small African nation descended into a communications blackout as repression took hold of the country following a thwarted coup against Nkurunziza in May 2015.
Private media outlets were closed down by force, radio stations burned. Local journalists went into hiding or into exile as they feared they were on an alleged hit-list, others were simply forcibly disappeared. Those who stayed turned to social media to spread information, and went underground. Several popular musicians fled the country. Government officials say media bans were intended to ensure the overall volatile security situation remained remains stable.
"You can use money, media (...) This too will fail because people see everything and they know the truth," Pierre Nkurunziza told reporters this morning at a press conference in Rutana, in southern Burundi, claiming that opposition supporters spread defiance messages through the media. It later emerged that two citizens from Rutana, in the country's east, were detained after being accused of "contempt" against the head of state, according to SOS media, a collective of mostly anonymous journalists launched after May 2015.
The government-approved communications regulator, commonly known as CNC, on 5 December, announced that no locally produced Burundian song would be broadcast on Burundian media without the approval of the Amicale des musiciens du Burundi (AMB) – an organisation representing Burundian musicians. This measure will come into force in March 2017.
According to Iwacu newspaper, this decision was in response to a request formulated by AMB President Bruno Simbavimbere, who claimed songs could be used in efforts to undermine peace, and that other song of poor quality "have no artistic value". Simbavimbere was quoted as saying: "Some local radio stations broadcast songs which messages are likely to undermine the efforts of the government in its quest for peace."
A 'proof' of growing totalitarian regime
Burundian musicians, who spoke to Iwacu, told of their frustrations. Roméo Sikubwabo, a member of the nation's most popular reggae band, Lion Story, described as very politically active, said this censorship measure was only one characteristic of a totalitarian regime. "The destruction of certain radios, which were, moreover, spreading our songs is the proof".
The musician, whose said pledged to continue to produce their songs for the sake of freedom of expression, said his band no longer recognises the legitimacy of the AMB. "It never intervened when we were threatened or mistreated. And now it comes out to correct our songs – it's unheard of."
IBTimes UK met Noel Urbain Barikumwe, a manager of the band, in June 2015, as he was seeking asylum in the UK for fear for his life. "Because we sing about democracy, are against corruption and political violence, and are famous in Burundi and elsewhere, politicians might feel targeted when we sing that we don't want corruption, and that we don't want politicians to use their power to kill," Barikumwe said at the time.
Another Burundian musician, rapper Thomas Nzeyimana, known as Mkombozi, who is exile, said one of his songs (Nzeyimana) had already been prohibited. "It's a dictatorship," he echoed, adding that the AMB's involvement in state's affairs was "politicising" Burundian music.
Measure good for 'quality music' industry
Singer Emery Sun held a more balanced view, telling Iwacu he believed there is nothing wrong with the measure in principle, but that the censorship coordination committee needs to be neutral and impartial, but also include experienced and trained individuals.
Famous musician Jean Pierre Nimbona, alias Kidumu, shared this view, saying the measure was a positive one, as long as no corruption is allowed. The singer-songwriter believes that musicians may resort to corruption to ensure their songs are broadcast. "If censure should happen, the committee must be independent and neutral".
Vianney Nzigamasabo, known as Vichou Love, a singer in the band Peace and Love, welcomed the measure, saying, "It's high time for us to work hard and produce quality music." He did, however, hope that the government would compensate and remunerate musicians for their work as an incentive.
Earlier this year, famous Burundian musicians, such as Bertrand Ninteretse, a rapper from Burundi's capital Bujumbura, who performs under the stage name Kaya Free, came together with other artists from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to record a song calling for peace and democracy in their homeland, Africa's Great Lakes region.