In early July, Gloriose Kamikazi, employee of Bujumbura city, sent an audio message to a colleague in the same institution. Little did she know that days later, agents of the dreaded intelligence agency SNR would come for her.
Kamikazi was picked from work on or around July 5. Since then, she has been in jail until this Thursday December 5 when she appeared in a Bujumbura court.
Dressed in green prison dress, besides her lawyer, court heard that Kamikazi in the audio message used ethnic discriminatory language to refer to the INTWARI women’s association. It includes wives of former armed combatants of the ruling party.
The INTWARI women have the First Lady Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza as one of their powerful champions.
According to prosecution, accused Kamikazi called the woman “Iminuko”, a word for which it is not easy to find an English equivalent. The closest word can be horribly decomposing “cadavers” or “corpses” or “dead bodies”.
According to Burundians The Chronicles consulted, “Iminuko” is a very common word among Burundians, but can gain different meanings depending on context. It is said to mean cadavers with horrible stench. The word is also used loosely by some Burundians to refer to the other ethnic group.
Prosecution says Kamikazi made the comments to express her open hostility towards the INTWARI women because they are Hutus.
The heated sentiments which the case has provoked are clearly visible on social media, especially Facebook. They refer to her as “Umututsikazi Gloriose Kamikazi”. Some posts say her comments reflect how derogatory the Tutsi women view Hutu counterparts. All are not publishable.
In court on Thursday, the state asked for 3 year jail sentence and that Kamikazi pays financial damages to INTWARI association of 600m Burundian Francs (about Rwf 250m or $270,000).
In addition, the lawyers of INTWARI women want Kamikazi to pay their legal costs of 10m Burundian Francs (Rwf 4.5m or $4,800).
According to reports, Kamikazi in her defense pleaded guilty to the charge of making the comment, but vehemently denied it was ethnic.
The use of ethnic language among Burundians was very common and considered normal, until 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza survived a coup while he attended a summit of the East African Community bloc in Arusha Tanzania.
Government unleashed a reign of terror that forced hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in neighboring countries. In Rwanda, there are up to 90,000 refugees – most of them in a camp in Kirehe district.
President Nkurunziza and his closed officials call the coup leaders, and armed rebellions that have followed coming from DR Congo, as terrorists. However, the rank-and-file followers of the ruling party call them “Tutsi extremists”.
Before all this erupted, Burundians openly called each Hutu or Tutsi or Twa – which according to Burundian society, are ethnic groups. Yet they all speak the same language, Kirundi, and share a lot of other cultural practices.
Burundi’s case is almost similar to Rwanda. But politicised ethnicity, compounded by deliberate government policy targeting Tutsis since before independence, resulted in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda.
Ethnic references are a criminal offense in Rwanda, as the post-genocide establishment tries to shape a country free from ethnicity.
Centuries of history, only being revived after 1994, shows there were never ethnic groups in Rwanda. Instead Rwandans laid allegiance to 20 different clans.
Back in the Bujumbura court where Gloriose Kamikazi risks long jail, the case is viewed completely differently by Burundian exiles and campaign groups. They see it as government profiling some Burundians.
A group active online under the banner “SOS Média Burundi” reports that since Kamikazi’s arrest by SNR agents, her family members have tormented with threats of death.
Sentencing for Kamikazi will be pronounced before end of this month.