Burundian minister of health Thaddée Ndikumana announced on March 31 that the country’s first two cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed: a fifty-six-year-old man returning from Rwanda and a forty-two-year-old coming from Dubai, having stopped over in Rwanda as well. Until then, the Burundian authorities had maintained the country was protected from the pandemic “by the grace of God”. The remaining four African countries that have not reported any cases are the Comoros, Lesotho, São Tomé and Príncipe, and South Sudan. Burundi suspended all international flights last week, but is still set on holding elections in May.
Why It Matters
Burundi’s acknowledgement that the virus had reached the country was a slight reassurance to its neighbors, who up until this point feared that the country was deliberately obscuring the number of actual cases it had detected. The country has relatively porous borders given it is still recovering from a protracted civil war, which in turn creates a risk that Burundian refugees could carry the virus to neighboring countries. Given its location, this would be an especially risky scenario for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as Burundi borders the country’s eastern provinces, which have been destabilized by violent rebel groups, making health monitoring difficult. Burundi’s May presidential and parliamentary elections have already been marred by concerns over political repression and corruption. COVID-19 is likely to upset the elections as well, further casting doubt on the legitimacy of the results should the government choose to follow through with the original set date of May 20.