In Bujumbura, “solidarity” fitness unites Burundians


(AFP) – It’s Tuesday, and like every Tuesday, they jump with both feet, hands in the air to the rhythm of the coach’s whistle, indifferent to the night falling in Bujumbura, the economic capital of Burundi eaten a few years ago years. still little for violence. Women and men, young and old, some in fluorescent tracksuits, the sixty sports fans form a large circle in the middle of which mobile phones and other valuables have been carefully placed. “Tired?” shouts the athletic trainer, above the deluge of pop and Afrobeat spitting from the big speakers. Before resuming, not really caring about the answer: “And one, and two, and three!” At the “Solidarity Beach Club”, you only need to pay 200 Burundian francs (9 euro cents) to access the closed area. A small sum, in the world’s poorest country in GDP per capita. “C is very cheap. ! Sports halls are very expensive, not everyone can afford them”, compares Sheila Mpawenimana, 19 years old. Depending on their possibilities, each athlete also slips a ticket to the coach, who makes regular rounds of the circle, where you can come and go as you please.Two other groups train on this large, landscaped, paved basketball court, with a small cafe offering cold drinks and “VIP” restrooms, nestled between Lake Tanganyika and the high hills of this small landlocked country in Central Africa. “I like to come because there. it’s atmosphere,” smiles Sacrée Metela, 32, catching her breath. “Being together gives you a certain courage, it cheers you up even if you’re tired,” adds the one who wanted to get back in shape after her five pregnancies. -“All the trends . combined”-A crowd like this at the end of the day was hard to imagine just a few years ago, when from 2015 Burundi plunged into a deep cry a policy marked by repression and the exile of more than 400,000 people. “Participation dropped due to (…) insecurity. In 2016, when security was established, people came in droves,” proudly explains organizer Hussein Sinangwa, 69. “After the crisis, it was very important to regroup,” continues the co-founder of this club in 2004, in the last months of the Burundian civil war.Since its independence in 1962, Burundi has been the scene of numerous massacres and conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi communities, estimated respectively in 85% and 14% of its population. Christian and Muslim religions also live there. “Mass sport is important as a whole because we merge, all tendencies combined: political parties combined, ethnicities combined, religions combined,” pleads Mr. Sinangwa. One day, a prominent member of the club was expelled for trying to “intoxicate the people” on ethnic issues. “We expelled him,” he sweeps. The “Beach Club Solidaritat” also aims to assist its members ” in case of illness, death and the like,” explains Husse in Sinangwa. With the political crisis, Burundi, under international sanctions between 2015 and 2022, sank into a deep economic crisis, which caused the cost of living to explode and the depletion of certain products such as fuel. While on the surface life has resumed – human rights violations continue – the fragile health system has weakened and social services have remained non-existent. Even more than before, Burundians have turned to clubs – sports, walking in particular – or religious communities to find safety nets. “It’s like a family, because when you have problems, everyone here is here to help”, concludes Sheila Mpawenimana, before rejoining the circle.
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