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Youth journalists interview Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza on key issues

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Ajia
Child journalists gather around Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza (centre), along with UNICEF Representative in Burundi Catherine Mbengue (left) and Chief of Public Information for the United Nations Operation in Burundi, Wilton Fonseca (second from right).

By Olalekan Ajia

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 17 October 2006 – Despite his government’s cautious relations with private radio stations and journalists, President Pierre Nkurunziza last week granted a one-hour candid interview to 14 child journalists and warmly praised UNICEF for training the youths.

UNICEF Burundi initiated the training of child journalists in December 2005 for the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting, a joint project of UNICEF and the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Interviewed in the main studio of Burundi National Radio and Television (RTNB) on 10 October, President Nkurunziza, who took office after national elections last year, noted that “the first policies announced by my government were in favour of children.” He then took a series of probing questions from the floor.

Health-care needs

The young reporters began by asking the president about inadequate medical supplies, equipment and personnel for the country’s fledging programme providing free birth delivery services and medical care for children under the age of five.

In response, he pointed out that the mass influx of mothers and children at local health centres and hospitals is proof of the programme’s necessity and acceptance by the general public. He said the government has embarked on a systematic plan to build new health centres, in addition to reopening those shut down during Burundi’s 12-year civil war.

President Nkurunziza added that the government is encouraging medical personnel to serve in rural areas, while Nigeria is sending 45 doctors to assist. He also expressed thanks to agencies and donor countries that are contributing drugs and medical equipment to ensure the success of the health programme.

Educational reforms

The student journalists went on to ask about inadequate infrastructure in Burundi’s schools, many of which lack benches, desks, and teaching and learning materials – as well as trained teachers.

The president replied that measures were being taken to construct temporary classrooms, which UNICEF is helping to build. He said school furniture was being imported, since Burundi does not currently have the capacity to produce appropriate furnishings locally.

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Ajia
Child journalists and adult observers with the president during their 10 October interview at the main studio of Burundi National Radio and Television.

Regarding the insufficient number of teachers, the president pointed out that most of Burundi’s teachers fled the countryside during the war and are presently in the capital, Bujumbura. He said the situation was being tackled.

Youth journalists’ project

At the end of the interview – which was also attended by UNICEF Representative in Burundi Catherine Mbengue and the Chief of Public Information for the United Nations Operation in Burundi (UNOB), Wilton Fonseca – President Nkurunziza chatted and posed for photographs with the children. Expressing delight with the child journalists’ project, he promised personal support for UNICEF and partners to extend it to children in the interior of the country.

Since July of this year, ONUB has supported the project by providing studio facilities, trainers and snacks for the children. The non-governmental organization Search for Common Ground took on training five students as well.

The young people involved in the journalism training come from varying socio-economic backgrounds. Among them are youths from the Association of Orphans Against AIDS and former street children who are being rehabilitated by the STAMM Foundation, a local NGO. Girl Guides and members of the Network of Youths for Education and Development also participate.

2006 Day of Broadcasting

Through the training project, the work of child journalists has been featured on RTNB, Radio Publique Africaine, BONESHA FM, Radio Scolaire and Radio Culture.

Besides their recent session with President Nkurunziza, the journalists-in-training interviewed UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman during her visit to Burundi in March and ONUB Force Commander Major-General Derrick Mgwebi in August.

UNICEF Burundi plans to make this year’s International Children’s Day of Broadcasting – which takes place on 10 December – a memorable one. The country’s youth journalists will work with at least five private radio stations and the national radio-television network, reporting on HIV/AIDS and youth (the theme of this year’s Day of Broadcasting) as well as other issues.

They also plan to book the president for another interview.



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