Burundi: Fishermen victims of armed robberies

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In the different fishing zones around Lake Tanganyika, reality is that many fishermen are worried about their security. Jumaine Nyabenda, 55 years, is among those fishermen, who are victims of armed robberies in this big freshwater reservoir. A fisherman since 1980, today he gets just one-third of his catch, compared to how it was four years ago.

His pain is immense, but Jumaine Nyabenda, 55 years, tried to keep his head held high. “It is very difficult to explain”, he says after a long sigh. “Four years ago, I had four fishing boats and around 20 employees,” he explains with a voice full of emotion, seated some metres from the lake shore at the fishing area pf Mvugo in the south of Burundi.

Today, Jumaine Nyabenda does not have even one small boat. He remembers very well of that fateful night when armed men killed his employees and stole three engines, many batteries and other materials.

With a pained voice, he relates: “It was around one in the morning, we were very far from the lake. All of a sudden, armed bandits came from the Congolese waters. They started to shoot in the air to scare us and force us to stop,” he explains, adding that one of the employees was shot in the head when he was trying to resist.

“I will never forget this young brave man. He was the pillar of my team,” he adds, noting that also three engines and other materials were stolen. And he continues his story: “Me, I have been a prisoner for many days. And to release me, my family has had to give a big amount of money as ransom. Hooded, the kidnappers took me to Congo,” confided the fisherman. For him, to be alive is a miracle.

To illustrate the situation, this father of seven children precise that the price of one engine is at USD 3600, and a battery costs at least USD 150. Without counting the price of ropes, nets, lights etc.

One month after this incident, Jumaine Nyabenda joined his family in Lake Nyanza safely. Gradually, he recovered, with the help of his friend. Today, he has got back to his activity with one of his boats that was not functional. “Today, there is no other job to do. I am not sure to recover completely anytime soon,” he confides, highlighting that after this incident, the quality of life of his family has deteriorated a lot. “Before, I had employees, my revenue was around 30 million BIF (USD 17,500) per month. But with the decreasing number of fish in the Burundian side of the lake and rise in the price of fuel, currently I earn 1 million BIF (around USD 600) by the end of the month”. Mr. Nyabenda requests that the security of fishermen is reinforced. “It’s by miracle that our brother came back,” says Canisius Bukuru, a resident of Mvugo, who advocates for the security of fishermen. He mentions that most of the time, the armed bandits come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and operate in collaboration with some Burundians.

In his family, it is despair. “Our standard of living has certainly gone down, but what really counts for us is that our father is alive,” declared one of his sons, who is also a fisherman. He highlights, however, that his father had to sell two motorbikes and one TV set to get back to fishing. According to him, their daily life has been changed suddenly and two of his sisters had to stop school as they could not afford the fees. They got married whilst they were in secondary school.

Speaking of other cases of thefts or crimes in this lake, as that of the night of 17 July 2016, where two fishermen were killed. Gabriel Butoyi, the President of the fishermen federations asks Burundian authorities to take measures to stop these thefts and crimes. According to him, these should decrease if the law is re-enforced, by Burundi in collaboration with DRC.

On the administrative side, Gad Niyukuri, the Governor of Makamba, one of the three provinces of Burundi to access the lake, recognises that there are cases of armed thefts. He asks fishermen to be supportive and inform the authorities on time. A call has also been launched by Colonel Gaspard Baratuza, spokesperson of the Burundian army, which indicates that soldiers from the Navy cannot be everywhere in the lake.

The waters of Lake Tanganyika are shared among four countries: Burundi (8%); Democratic Republic of Congo (45%); Tanzania (41%) and Zambia (6%).

Rénovat Ndabashinze

Translation: @Nawsheenh

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