President Pierre Nkurunziza made the announcement during the celebration of the country’s 57thIndependence Day on July 1 indicating that his decision is a move that should “remind Burundians of their history.”
Ironically, however, citizens have been enraged at this new move because they believe that the president intends, by this new decision, to spark new rivalries between the two major ethnic groups in the country. They also accuse the president of attempting to deliberately erase the contributions of the Tutsi minority from the country’s history.
Among the landmarks to be renamed are the country’s national stadium, the national airport, the presidential palace and the historic 3rd September Street located in Bujumbura.
“This move is also to remove names that emerge from betrayal and bad behaviour brought in by colonialism,” Nkurunziza said.
President Nkurunziza, the country’s only second democratically elected leader in more than half a century as an independent nation, is a Hutu himself. There have been long-standing tensions and rivalries between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority of Burundi and this new move seems to escalate the tensions even more.
Burundi has been independent from the rule of Belgium since 1962 but has been riddled with various seasons of conflicts and tensions between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority ethnic groups.
Pierre Nkurunziza, who is a Hutu former rebel leader, announced that the presidential palace has been renamed after King Ntare Rushatsi who is widely considered as the man who founded the Burundi kingdom during the 1500s.
Meanwhile, the national stadium in the former capital city of Bujumbura, which was previously named after Louis Rwagasore, one of the most revered figures in Burundi’s history – and also an ethnic Tutsi, will be officially called the Heroes Stadium.
Burundi’s international airport has also been renamed after the country’s first democratically elected president, Merchior Ndadaye, an ethnic Hutu who only ruled for three months in 1993 before he was assassinated.
Meanwhile, Burundi’s famous 3rd September Street, which marks the date former military leader Pierre Buyoya overthrew his cousin President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza in 1987 is also to be renamed as the Lt-Gen Adolphe Nshimirimana Street, an ally of President Nkurunziza who was assassinated in 2015 following a coup attempt.
Mr Buyoya, an ethnic Tutsi, promised to heal the ethnic divides between Burundi’s ethnic groups but ultimately unleashed a repressive campaign against a Hutu uprising in 1988.
But Burundians are not taking this lightly, as they believe the president is inciting discord among its people while making a major attempt at erasing the important history of the country.
Last year, President Pierre Nkurunziza named the city of Gitega (a small central city of a population of about 30,000 compared to Bujumbura’s 1.2 million) as the country’s new capital city. This change was in fulfilment of a presidential promise he made over ten years ago.
Bujumbura however remains an important city for Burundi with officials saying it will in future function solely as the economic center of the country.