Amid political and social unrest, Burundi’s teachers’ union is working closely with Education International to both counter the government’s harassment of teachers as well as enhance the safety of their working conditions.
From 6-7 October, representatives from Education International (EI)’s African regional office (EIRAF) were in Bujumbura, Burundi to provide support to teachers who have faced ongoing harassment from public authorities since unrest broke out in the country last April.
Working with EI affiliate, the Syndicat des Travailleurs de l’Enseignement du Burundi(STEB), the delegation was led by EI Chief Regional Coordinator for Africa Assibi Napoe, and the General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers Union, and EI Executive Board Member, James Teweheyo.
Together, EI and STEB are working to collect information and data on the situation in Burundi since April, including gaining an understanding of the situation that STEB members are dealing with, as well as establish clear and open lines of communication. Education International and STEB also met with education authorities to discuss ways of keeping schools safe for learning.
During its time in Burundi, the EIRAF delegation learned first-hand of the challenges teachers are dealing with, including the accounts of STEB members forced into exile and jailed, including 253 teachers who have fled to other regions of the country in search of sanctuary.
The delegation specifically focused on one STEB member, Oscar Ndabazaniye, imprisoned since 6 July, following his participation in a young teachers’ workshop jointly organised by IE and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation last May in Dakar, Senegal. Despite two meetings with Ndabazaniye’s lawyer “our repeated request to visit the detainee” was not granted, said Napoe.
Turning focus toward safety and security issues, the STEB General Secretary, Jérôme Bizindavyi, and the STEB HIV/AIDS, Health and Environment Officer joined the delegation to meet with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Research, Bigirimana Liboire.
“The STEB members live in a climate of fear, and do not dare to speak openly,” Napoe noted, adding that although some neighbourhoods are quite, two students were killed in early October.
Education International has committed to closely monitor the situation in Burundi, continue advocating for Oscar Ndabazaniye’s release from prison, and encourage solidarity among neighbouring countries, such as Uganda where UNATU is helping to accommodate of STEB members, in favour of displaced teachers.