Remember Bujumbura? Once upon a time it was the political capital of Burundi. But no more! The Burundian government has just adopted a historic bill in which Gitega on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, becomes the political capital and Bujumbura the economic capital.
The decision has yet to be approved by Parliament, which is largely dominated by the ruling party.
The change of the political capital follows a promise made in 2007 by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, who claimed he was motivated by Gitega’s central location, unlike Bujumbura, located in the west of the country on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Gitega, a city of over 720,000 residents (Bujumbura has 1.2 million inhabitants), was the capital of the Burundian monarchy.
A Burundian activist who requested anonymity told the Agence France Press that Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party considered Bujumbura a bastion of the opposition and was more at ease in Gitega. But Gitega barely has enough infrastructure to become the seat of government.
“There are practically no offices to rent, there are very few hotels and restaurants,” he said. “This is an unrealistic, totally crazy decision because, in addition, the country is going through a serious economic crisis and cannot afford to move and install the 5 ministries in Gitega”.
On social networks, many critics mocked a decision they believe was made with little common sense, wondering why the president did what he did when China had just built him a presidential palace in Bujumbura worth over $20 million.
By moving its capital, the East African nation follows in the footsteps of other African states. Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Nigeria have all moved their political capitals after developing new ones beginning in the 1980s. Many countries including Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana are also building new, futuristic, billion-dollar cities to deal with increased urbanization and growing population.
Burundi has been in crisis since President Nkurunziza sought a controversial third term in April 2015. The violence that accompanied the crisis killed at least 1,200 people and displaced more than 400,000 between April 2015 and May 2017, according to estimates by the International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation.
Not far from Burundi is Tanzania where President John Magufuli has fulfilled his pledge to have the entire government relocate to the country’s new capital of Dodoma by the end of 2019.
Dodoma, which was elevated to city status last year, was designated as the capital city by the country’s founding president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in 1973. Its central location, compared to the coastal Dar es Salaam is considered ideal for bringing government services closer to the people.