(Bujumbura) Burundi: At first glance, this name does not immediately evoke century-old forests sheltering elusive chimpanzees, nor golden sandy beaches lined with palm trees stretching along one of the largest lakes in the world.
Rather poverty, the civil war of the 1990s and, more recently, the political crisis that shook this small landlocked country in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes. So many ideas that the VisitBurundi initiative wants to go beyond.
“We decided to show the beauty of our country, to show the culture, to finally change the image of our country, different from the one it has abroad,” explains Bruce Niyonzima, 27, in Bujumbura, the economic capital.
“We want Burundians and foreigners to come and visit our country, because it’s a good country that has a lot to show,” he continues, welcoming AFP to the Living Museum, an outdated place, but not without charm. , halfway between an animal refuge – a solitary leopard rubs shoulders with crocodiles and turkeys – and a craft market.
Launched in 2021, the initiative is led by a dozen young people who give their time to set up organized trips bringing together a few hundred people, help modernize tourist sites and, above all, communicate.
Their strategy can be summed up in three words: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.
“The communication strategy we use is based on social networks because we understand that now a lot of people” use it, underlines Darlène Nahayo, 28, events and public relations manager.
“Our target is largely young people,” adds the one who is also co-host of a YouTube channel dedicated to women.
Burundi is ranked by the World Bank as the poorest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, but its extremely young population (65% of Burundians are under 25, according to UNICEF) is increasingly connected , especially in cities.
As elsewhere, influencers and youtubers are the stuff of dreams. VisitBurundi therefore appeals to them with polished publications and videos – in English, Kirundi or French – to convey its message.
In a promotional t-shirt, Burundian singer and influencer Alvin Smith took part in the exercise at the sacred drums sanctuary of Gishora, a tourist hotspot.
In this digital strategy, the organizers say they were inspired not by the Rwandan neighbor – whose “VisitRwanda” is spread even on the jerseys of Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal – but by Dubai, which knew during the pandemic attract many influencers to its beaches and cocktail bars.
Bujumbura is not yet Dubai, but for VisitBurundi attracting tourists, both local and international, is now more possible than just a few years ago.
In 2015, less than ten years after the civil war (1993-2006), the country plunged into a political crisis with the controversial candidacy for a third term of President Pierre Nkurunziza, killing at least 1,200 people and creating a climate of terror.
The situation has calmed down since the election in 2020 of a new president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, and the United States and the European Union have announced in recent months that they are lifting their sanctions and resuming their aid.
The government – which did not respond to AFP’s interview requests – was, however, singled out in September by a UN commission of inquiry, saying the human rights situation remained “disastrous” in Burundi .
“Now we have security stability and we have a president who encourages young people, who wants us to develop our country. I think now is the right time,” insists Mr. Niyonzima.
He adds that he is in discussion with the authorities to formalize a partnership.
With very few tourists, the infrastructure has never really been developed – except in Bujumbura, where hotels and beach restaurants are scattered along the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Expanding them is one of VisitBurundi’s priorities.
On the outskirts of Kibira, a dense forest home to 200 to 300 chimpanzees, no tourist accommodation yet exists, but a lodge with a few rooms is under construction, with breathtaking views of the surrounding green tea fields.
“People really like this forest […] so it’s better to create a lodge to allow people to sleep” here, welcomes Deus-Dédit Niyiburana, tourist guide in this national park.
“Not much is missing”, wants to believe this passionate, inexhaustible on each plant of the Kibira.
Since December, foreigners can obtain their visa on arrival at the airport, which greatly facilitates the once laborious procedures.
A key step in the long journey in which the young people of VisitBurundi have embarked.