Buses to Burundi from neighbouring Rwanda used to be full, but nowadays they struggle for passengers: a reflection of tensions amid accusations Kigali is backing a rebellion against Bujumbura.
Checkpoints on the roads from Rwanda have sprung up, with passengers regularly taken off buses and accused of being part of a rebel army Bujumbura accuses Rwanda of harbouring on its soil.
“If you are young you are routinely arrested,” said Jacques, who works for a Rwandan bus operator.
Burundi, where a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus ended in 2006, has been rocked by violence since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched his successful but highly controversial bid for a third term in power.
It sparked an attempted coup and months of civil unrest led by opposition groups, who said it was in defiance of the constitution and the Arusha accords which ended the war.
Tightly-controlled Rwanda- which has a similar ethnic makeup to Burundi – is seen as a safe place for those who oppose the government in Bujumbura.
The Rwandan capital Kigali has become a refuge for many opposition and civil society activists — as well as dissidents from Nkurunziza’s ruling party.
Burundi however goes a step further, claiming that rebel forces — set up by mutinous soldiers after a failed coup in May — are also there and enjoying Rwandan support.
Relations between Rwanda and Burundi grew tense after Rwanda President Paul Kagame urged Nkurunziza to end his bid for a third term.
The people of Rwanda and Burundi have close ties, and have taken turns sheltering in each other’s countries when trouble spiked, including during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war.
Since the crisis began in Burundi in April, some 200 Rwandans have been arrested in Burundi, a Rwandan diplomat said, adding that while around 50 had been released, they had been no news of the others.
“Rwandans are in the crosshairs of Burundi’s security services, they are taken from the bus from Rwanda and imprisoned, just because they are Rwandans,” the diplomat said, asking not to be named. “Others were arrested at their workplace.”
Alois Bayingana, a 43-year-old Rwandan taxi driver, was arrested in August in a Bujumbura bar after driving a customer to the city from Kigali.