Burundi's First Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo spoke with Moses Havyarimana about the country's economy, politics and regional integration.
Burundi has faced economic growth challenges since 2015. What is the current state of the economy?
The economic downturn is a global issue currently. But given the prospects, we are hopeful; we see a better tomorrow because we have minerals.
We are working with mining companies and we ask Burundians living outside the country to come back and help build the nation.
How has the government managed to run the country without foreign aid since 2015?
We still have partners who support us. We also have resources. The government mobilised the population to contribute funds for the general elections. We are going into the 2020 elections confidently.
Are you well prepared?
We are ready for the elections. Everything is in place: The commission; the electoral code and laws. We are now calling on Burundians to be united and go into the elections confidently. We are optimistic the vote will be peaceful.
Are you the heir apparent of the incumbent president?
No; I am not. We are from different political parties. He is from the National Council for the Defence of Democracy–Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and I am from the Union for National Progress (UPRONA).
Do you plan to contest the presidency?
That decision will come from my party. If the party nominates me I will go for the top seat without a problem.
You have been representing the president in all important meetings. Is this a learning experience to prepare you to take over?
I represent the president in various meetings as part of my mandate as the First Vice President.
Some opposition members say that they are harassed by the ruling party and are sceptical about whether the 2020 election will be free and fair...That’s their opinion.
I am from an opposition party and I live in the country. If they want to get into power why do they live abroad? They should come and get involved in the politics on the ground because when you are outside the country you can’t succeed.
If they are ready to compete with other parties in Burundi they are welcome. Let’s go to the elections and let them accept the victory of whichever party wins.
Some opposition members ask for guarantees before returning. Why? They are citizens like the rest. Now Burundi is peaceful, let them return and help build our country.
But some members of the opposition party National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement (CNARED) have arrest warrants…
If they have cases they have to go through the justice system. That is not a political problem. In fact, the majority of them have no issues; we have seen some of them here in Burundi and they are free.
Opposition members have raised concerns about the National Independent Electoral Commission saying that some of its members are sympathisers of the ruling party. How credible is the commission?
I don’t understand when people say the elections will have irregularities. Let us go to the battlefield and see how it goes and then afterwards, we can express our dissatisfaction based on the results.
Has Burundi resolved the sour relations with Rwanda?
Rwanda and Burundi are sister countries; we speak the same language and have the same culture. They are our neighbours. You can choose your friend but you can’t choose your neighbour, that’s why we hope that the relations will improve progressively. Right now the situation is calm.
Are there any steps taken to normalise the relations between the two countries?
Well that’s our wish. We would like to normalise the situation because Burundi needs Rwanda and Rwanda needs Burundi and that will come progressively.
Is Burundi really interested in the East African Community?
Burundi is well integrated in the regional bloc. We attend all meetings and besides, the Secretary General is Burundian.
Why is Burundi not paying its EAC dues?
That matter is not exclusive to Burundi. The global economy is not doing well and that is why we pay little by little. Burundi is not the biggest defaulter, but we have approved and allocated money for that so this should be settled soon.
What next after failing to join the Southern African Development Community?
Joining SADC is a work in progress. The only challenge remaining is administrative and we hope that we will be a member as soon as we have a meeting with the leadership.
Are you worried about Ebola?
Yes, and we are ready to combat the disease. The health ministry has taken significant steps in that direction; we have started vaccinations at border entry points with neighbouring DR Congo, so we are well prepared.