Burundi declared the small central city of Gitega the country’s new political capital on Saturday, in line with a presidential promise made a decade ago.
A government spokesman named Gitega while also stating that the previous capital Bujumbura, on the north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, would in future function solely as the country’s economic centre.
The government “has just adopted an historic bill making Gitega the political capital and making Bujumbura the economic capital,” tweeted Jean-Claude Karerwa Ndenzako, spokesman for President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Cabinet meetings will henceforth be held in Gitega, where five ministries will also be established from the start of 2019,” he added, notably the interior, education and agriculture ministries.
Parliament, dominated by the ruling party, must still approve the move.
Nkurunziza promised in 2007 the move would go ahead, citing Gitega’s central position compared to Bujumbura, although the former’s population is barely 30 000 to Bujumbura’s 1.2 million.
The new choice was once the capital of the Burundian monarchy and the opposition accuse Nkurunziza of attempting a symbolic restoration. Bujumbura is today considered an opposition stronghold where the president spends less and less time.
One activist who requested anonymity said Gitega was not ready to assume the mantle of capital.
“There are practically no offices to let, few hotels or restaurants – it’s an irrational decision,” he said of the move much derided on social media.
“The country is deep in economic crisis and does not have the means to move and install five ministries in Gitega.”
In addition, China only recently constructed a $20 million presidential palace in Bujumbura.
A 2015 announcement by Nkurunziza, re-elected that year and president since 2005, that he wanted to stand for a third term sparked huge controversy.
Outbreaks of violence since then have cost at least 1,200 lives with more than 400 000 people displaced between April 2015 and May 2017, according to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating the unrest.