Burundi: a priori, this name does not immediately evoke centuries-old forests sheltering elusive chimpanzees, nor golden sandy beaches lined with palm trees stretching along one of the largest lakes in the world. Rather poverty, the civil war of the 1990s and, more recently, the political crisis that shook this small landlocked country in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes. So many ideas that the VisitBurundi initiative wants to go beyond.
“We decided to show the beauty of our country, its culture, to finally change the image it has abroad”explains Bruce Niyonzima, 27, in Bujumbura, the economic capital. “We want Burundians and foreigners to come and visit our country because it is a country that has a lot to show”he continues, welcoming AFP to the Living Museum, an outdated but not without charm place, halfway between an animal refuge – a lone leopard rubs shoulders with crocodiles and turkeys – and a craft market.
Launched in 2021, the initiative is carried out by a dozen young people who give their time to set up organized trips bringing together a few hundred people, help modernize tourist sites and, above all, communicate. Their strategy can be summed up in three words: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. “Our communication strategy is based on social networks because we have understood that many people now use them”, underlines Darlène Nahayo, 28, events and public relations manager. “Our target is mainly young people”adds the one who is also co-host of a YouTube channel dedicated to women.
Influencers and YouTubers
Burundi is ranked by the World Bank as the poorest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, but its extremely young population (65% of Burundians are under 25, according to Unicef) is increasingly connected , especially in cities. As elsewhere, influencers and youtubers make people dream. VisitBurundi therefore appeals to them with polished posts and videos, in English, Kirundi or French, to convey its message. In a promotional T-shirt, the Burundian singer and influencer Alvin Smith thus lent himself to the exercise at the sanctuary of the sacred drums of Gishora, a tourist mecca.
In this digital strategy, the organizers say they were inspired not by neighboring Rwanda – whose “VisitRwanda” extends even to the jerseys of Paris-Saint-Germain and Arsenal – but by Dubai, who knew during the pandemic attract many influencers to its beaches and cocktail bars. Bujumbura is not yet Dubai, of course, but for VisitBurundi, attracting tourists, both local and international, is more possible today than just a few years ago.
In 2015, less than ten years after the civil war (1993-2006), the country plunged into a political crisis with the controversial candidacy for a third term of President Pierre Nkurunziza, killing at least 1,200 people and creating a climate of terror. . The situation has calmed down since the election of a new president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, in 2020, and the United States and the European Union have announced in recent months that they are lifting their sanctions and resuming their aid. The government – which did not respond to AFP’s interview requests – was, however, singled out in September by a UN commission of inquiry saying the human rights situation remained “disastrous” in Burundi.
Chimpanzees and tea fields
“Now we have stability in terms of security and we have a president who encourages young people, who wants us to develop our country. I think it’s the right time”, insists Mr. Niyonzima. He adds that he is in discussion with the authorities to formalize a partnership. With very few tourists, infrastructure has never really been developed in the country, except in Bujumbura, where hotels and beach restaurants are dotted along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Expanding them is one of VisitBurundi’s priorities.
On the outskirts of Kibira, a dense forest home to 200 to 300 chimpanzees, no tourist accommodation yet exists, but a lodge with a few rooms is under construction, with a breathtaking view of the surrounding green tea fields. “People like this forest very much, so it’s better to create a lodge for them to sleep here”welcomes Deus-Dédit Niyiburana, tourist guide in this national park. “Not much is missing”wants to believe this passionate, inexhaustible on each plant of the Kibira.
Since December, foreigners have been able to obtain their visa on arrival at the airport, which greatly facilitates the once laborious process. A key step in the long journey in which the young people of VisitBurundi have embarked.