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Burundi activists call French language boycott to protest UN police force

Freddy Mbonimpa, the Mayor of Bujumbura, talks to Gerrit van Rossum, France's Ambassador to Burundi, following a protest outside the French embassy in Bujumbura, 30 July 2016. AFP Photo/Stringer

Burundians are being urged to shun the French language on Monday to protest against the planned deployment of a UN police force to the country. Civil society groups have called for the boycott because France moved a UN Security Council resolution paving the way for the deployment of 228 UN police officers to Burundi.

“France took the initiative with the UN Security Council to send 228 police officers to Burundi,” said Hamza Burikukiye, chairman, Coalition of Associations of People Infected or Affected by HIV/AIDS (CAPES+). “We’re happy with our peace, we don’t see why France took this initiative now."

The UN Security Council approved the deployment of UN police officers at the end of July to monitor the security situation in the country and support the UN rights office in monitoring human rights violations and abuses.

Burikukiye says France remains a friend of Burundi and points out that the country is a member of Francophonie, the club of French-speaking nations. However, the boycott will help register displeasure at the deployment because “security has recovered”, according to the civil society leader.

Kirundi, Swahili and English

The boycott will take place each 29th day of the month and Burundians will be urged to speak in Kirundi, Swahili or English.

Burundians “speak many languages”, Burikukiye points out. The country has some 897,000 French speakers, according to 2014 statistics from the French Language Observatory cited by Francophonie.

The boycott is also being supported by the Integral Platform for Civil Society (PISC) group, although Burundi’s government was keen to point out that this initiative did not have the support of the authorities.

“The government has not boycotted French,” government spokesperson Willy Nyamitwe told RFI in a Twitter message.

Burundi’s government has already rejected the deployment of UN police officers, having previously said it would only accept some 50 unarmed UN personnel. France drafted the original UN resolution that was adopted on 29 July 2016.