BURUNDI A census? The working class has no ethnicity

Teachers’ strike assembly in Burundi in August 2020.

Editorial from issue n° 122 of the Tribune libre des travailleurs ikinyamakuru c’abakozi, monthly magazine of the Workers’ Party and Democracy-PTD « twungurunani »

Imperialism is always on the lookout for ways to continue the demolition of the productive forces, starting with the working class and its organizations. On October 26, 2020, a nationwide census of civil servants began, as announced by the Minister of Public Administration. One hundred and nine (109) questions were asked to the workers in this census! Ethnicity, bank account, union membership, geolocation, personal and private e-mail, number of children and other children in care, brand of cell phone, amount of salary and other income resources … this is but part of the scope covered by these questions. And remember that – in his first public broadcast – President Ndayishimiye had thrown out the constitutional requirement for public officials to declare assets at the beginning and end of their term of office, declaring that was « a matter of secrecy for each and everyone!”

In a heated press conference on last October 27, the union confederations, Cosybu, CSB and Cossessona denounced a census that violates the privacy of civil servants. For the president of Cosybu, Célestin Nsavyimana: « it is incomprehensible to ask civil servants which union they belong to, whether they are satisfied or not, what assets and sources of income they have… it is not normal ». Besides, he added, « Your superior has no right to know ». He states that these questions call into question privacy and trade union freedom. According to him, this is a violation of articles 19 and 37 of the Burundi constitution and ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which enshrine the right to organize and collective bargaining, freedom of association. There were many questions and concerns among workers. According to a teacher interviewed by the newspaper Iwacu, the issue of ethnicity is the most troublesome. For him, « To be recruited into the civil service as far as I know, you look at skills, not racial groups. That issue should be raised in politics, not in the workplace. » Another woman worker from the Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of Burundi (ISTEEBU) was concerned about some « bizarre » issues, such as salary. « What do they want our salary for? Should we think they want to take a cut, as they did for the elections? » she asked. The question about « the transfer » also frightened her: « If you are transferred, which province would you not like to go to? » She felt that it was a trick question. « I didn’t want to answer this question, but my census taker forced me to.”

In short, incredible. The worker, the civil servant in this case, is linked to their employer (the State) only through the non-individualized labour relations recorded in the Labour Code, the collective agreements and the general statute of civil servants. This reflects the government’s determination to challenge the common references to workers that are an integral part of what constitutes the State, and a threat to the working class, which has always remained united in the face of the ethnic divisions that have torn the country apart and continue to wreak havoc.

These divisions, in a cyclical fashion, have been pushed to the point of ethnic wars against the workers, peasants and youth who are unified by the conditions of misery and lack of a minimum of democratic freedoms imposed on them by imperialism. These conditions are linked to the implementation of the policies of capital under the aegis of the powers that be, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, which impel policies of privatization-pillage of the various resources of the country and the repayment of the foreign debt.

The interests of the working class in this country demand the respect of its rights enshrined in the Labor Code, collective agreements, the general status of civil servants and the ILO Conventions that the government of Burundi has ratified. They called for the implementation of a comprehensive public works program to address unemployment and the widespread cost-of-living wage increases. They call for a break with imperialism through the renationalization of all services and sectors that have been privatized and the nationalization of all the country’s wealth and resources.