Human trafficking-Burundi-Tanzania: children auctioned off 


Over the past year, Ivomo published its in-depth investigation into the phenomenon of « disappearances » of young people from Musongati commune (Rutana province), prompted to drop out of school and taken to Tanzania where they are employed on different plantations. We were essentially emphasizing how they found themselves facing trafficking.


In this new issue, we intend to thoughtfully examine the real causes of these departures. On the one hand, we will explore reasons connected with poverty. On the other, we will go further by examining those related to venture, cultural context and search of freedom. But before this, let’s get back on how the sale of these minors goes in Tanzania. Report.

Last December, our reporter visited several neighborhoods in Musongati commune, 160 kilometers east of the capital Bujumbura. He met more than a dozen young people who had just returned to their families from Tanzania for Christmas and New Year holidays. What is unusual this time is that some of them have no intention of returning to Tanzania for various reasons. They revealed to the reporter.

Pontien and Claude

At ten o’ clock, the reporter arrives in Kamaramagambo neighborhood. Not far from the main road, he sees Pontien, about 16 years old, cultivating the field. He is dressed in a blackish pair of trousers, a whitish shirt, all filthy dirty. The cloudy sky, tree branches and banana leaves shaken by the wind, and a few hundred meters away, the chirping birds hidden under the leaves give the impression of being at Rwihinda, the northern lake that constitutes the hibernation site for migratory birds.

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-04 at 09.19.04 (2)The songs of these birds punctuate Pontien’s hoe rhythms, who now prefers to work hard at home rather than abroad, because the only three months he spent in Tanzania were his worst nightmare. Whenever he recalls this, he feels broken-hearted. Testimony.

Pontien dropped out of school last year because he was tired of it. After more than a month of idleness, he was tempted by young people of his age who had returned from Tanzania with beautiful clothes and telephones. « There is a lot of money. If you get there, you will not be poor anymore, » they reassured him. Pontien had then the strong desire to go there. A certain Emmanuel who will take him there…

How did it all happen? The night of August 14, 2018, the young Pontien leaves his home without his parents’ knowledge. He meets Emmanuel who is waiting for him, not far from his home. They quickly take the road towards Tanzania, with all the precautions to avoid being spotted. They have to avoid talking to each other. In the darkness, they stride along, overwhelmed by the sounds of all sorts of insects. Five hours later, they join Claude, 15 years old, who awaits them in Bukemba, not far from the border between Burundi and Tanzania. Emmanuel will therefore take the two to the small agricultural center of Nkanda, in the Kasulu region of Kigoma province (northwestern Tanzania).

On arriving there, Pontien and Claude are deeply intrigued to see Emmanuel look for customers, mainly farmers, who might be interested in delivery. A few phone calls later, the first buyer arrives and the auction is launched. Emmanuel tells him: « I have brought two. How much will you pay? » Before reacting, the Tanzanian slowly approaches the two young people. He stares first at Pontien, and then grasps the biceps of his left arm before releasing him. He then turns to Claude and does the same thing. He thus replies:« For the first, I will give you 30 thousand shillings and 25 thousand for the second ». But Emmanuel is not happy with the offer: « This is not enough at all ».

The second buyer arrives on a bike. This one offers respectively 35 and 30 thousand shillings for both, but Emmanuel is still not satisfied. The deal is concluded with the third famer. This tall, fat man with a long beard agrees to pay 40,000 shillings for each of the two young Burundians who do not even know what to expect. « Okay! The deal is concluded, » reacts Emmanuel. Pontien and Claude will, since then, have to work as « slaves » in different plantations of their master. As for Emmanuel, he will simply vanish.

After this exchange, Pontien is completely disillusioned. « I quickly realized that the path I was embarking on was not the right one. I saw these guys wearing beautiful clothes but I never imagined they got rich by trafficking human beings. It is dirty money! », he regrets. There is another thing that offends the young man: to be sold like a goat. « Since then, I felt it was impossible for me to stay in Tanzania. Three months later, I got a return ticket and came straight back to the country. I prefer to live poor at home than be a slave, » he says.

Young man beheaded and mutilated

The victim’s name is Vianney, 12 years old. He was a friend of Jonas, 13 years old. Both were together at Kamaramagambo Primary School when, last September, they were urged to drop out of school, then taken to Tanzania. Unfortunately, they will not have the chance to return both of them. Although traumatized, Jonas has agreed to confide in Ivomo. The testimony is overwhelming.

On September 8, 2018, a certain Sibomana approaches Jonas and Vianney. He promises to show them a place, far from their parents, where they can earn a lot of money in short period – Tanzania. Impressed, the two young men insist to be taken to the location. On the following day, they start their journey. Like Pontien and Claude, they reach Kasulu two days later. Sibomana will soon deliver them to a buyer in exchange for money.

The parents, after looking for their children for two weeks, finally discover that Sibomana is the one who led them out of the country. They angrily force him to bring them back immediately. Sibomana knows that if he does not do what he is asked, parents will soon call the police. According to the Burundi’s criminal code, a person accused of human trafficking can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.

Three months later, in November, Sibomana takes his bike and rides back to Tanzania to pick up the children. At half-past four, under the blazing sun, he lands at Nkanda in the plantation where they are weeding. With sweat, fatigue, … he sits down and asks for drinking water. Jonas quickly raises a seven-liter can and gives to the one who sold them three months earlier. Sibomana is thirsty and swallows several sips with great noise. He doesn’t even remember that it is water collected in puddles. Phew! The thirst is quenched. The man regains his strength and decides to rest a little. In the evening, he stays with Jonas and Vianney in the plantation but doesn’t tell them anything about his mission until the next day. Very early in the morning, the two kids wake up and go back to their everyday work. Hoes, rhythm, cadence, …, and a song in Kirundi.

Sibomana also wakes up and joins them in the plantations. Before they finish their song, he tells them, « I have to take back home immediately. » And he adds: « Your parents kept looking for you since you left. Come on, we have to leave. » Therefore, Jonas and Vianney drop their hoes and follow Sibomana. Both of them get on the rack of his bike. With a bag on his back, Vianney climbs last. They ride so fast that they hope to arrive in Burundi before dark. Six hours later, they reach the base of a mountain in Nyalugusu, one of the regions hosting Burundian refugees. The two kids must then get off the bike and walk. They walk up the mountain for about thirty minutes. Once on the top, they get back on the bike. Having barely begun to pedal, Sibomana sees in front of them, 100 meters away, a group of men armed with machetes and clubs. The group comes closer in hurry. Panicking, Sibomana warns the kids. « We are being attacked. Hey! Run! Run! » Vianney and Jonas jump quickly and run for their life towards the forest, in two different directions. Sibomana quickly climbs on his bike and returns the way they came. He returns to Nkanda.

The criminals split into two groups. The first pursues Jonas, the other Vianney. However, Jonas runs so fast that the group will not be able to catch him. All the bandits will then follow the unfortunate Vianney only…

Jonas keeps running towards Nkanda and will not stop until he gets there. He gets there around 8 pm, extremely tired. He finds there Sibomana who arrived there several hours before. The latter quickly realizes that something is wrong: « Where is Vianney? » he asks. « I do not know. We went in different directions. I thought he had arrived, » says Jonas before adding, « maybe he has been kidnapped. » Then, follows a transition of silence. In the meantime, Sibomana remembers that he has the obligation to bring back the kids to their parents; otherwise, he would run the risk of being prosecuted. He directs his gaze to Jonas and his boss from Nkanda who came to inquire about the situation, then says to them in a low voice:« tomorrow morning, we will have to return and look for him. »

Touched, the Boss also decides to join them for the search. Early in the morning, everyone is up. They set off, all of them on bikes. A few hours later, they arrive at Nyalugusu and begin the search. The three of them enter the vast and dense forest, where Vianney had gone a day earlier. At each step, they check in bushes, left and right, but no sign. Twenty minutes, thirty, … Fifty five minutes later, they stumble upon a body of someone whose clothes look like those of the victim, near a bush. But, it is difficult to recognize it. His head is sliced, his arms and legs cut, flies and insects everywhere. Deep surprise! The body was already beginning to decompose. There was a deathly silence for a moment. At the same time, Jonas could easily hear the beating of his heart. After a long sigh, the Boss approaches the separate body parts of the victim. He flushes the flies first with the help of foliage, and then reassembles the parts, Sibomana and Jonas kept apart, helplessly watching, with tears in their eyes. The Boss then decide that the body be buried on the spot. After the funeral, the three return to Nkanda, sad and desperate. The night is arriving…

The next morning, Sibomana and Jonas return to Burundi and announce the bad news to Vianney’s parents. The victim’s mother, in constant shock, will eventually show signs of trauma. She still accuses Sibomana and holds him responsible for the death of her child. The local administration is not aware of anything so far.

Why do these young men go?

According to the findings of Ivomo’s survey, they are mostly motivated by many elements including a marked taste for adventure, a desire to work in a different cultural context and the quest for freedom and fortune.

The phenomenon of young people seeking independence at any cost is already known by experts. For example, it was analyzed by the Catholic Father, Tony Anatrella, in «Le monde des jeunes : qui sont-ils, que cherchent-ils ? ». This Psychoanalyst and Specialist of Social Psychology states that young people adulthood want to become psychologically autonomous while seeking to strengthen their self.

Nazer, 17, is in this category. He finds it annoying for a young man to stay in his parents’ house. « Parents impose rules that I do not like. We do not have freedom at home. They want to know all we do. It is not fair. They do not give the choice to their children. I went to Tanzania for the first time when I was 11, »says the young man. Six years later, Nazer is delighted that he has managed to stand on his own two feet: « I was able to make money no thanks to anybody. God gave me hands.”

As the phenomenon affects the eastern provinces, it seems like Tanzania is the only country that is closest and most attractive to these young people. Nduwimana, Nazer’s friend, revealed what attracted him. « Most young people who return from Tanzania often speak Kiswahili and Giha. I really like these languages. I do not want to stay with my parents and speak only one language. It’s not cool at all, » he says.

Poverty should also not be ignored among the causes of massive youth exile. Siwema is 16 years old. He dropped out of school in 2015 to try to help his parents who had practically nothing. « I did not see a future for myself and my parents. That’s how I was forced to go to Tanzania to make a living, » he says. « Over the first quarter I earned 200 thousand shillings which I used to pay for workers who help my mother in the field work. Today, everything is fine, » he adds.

Unlike Siwema, Cyriaque has rich parents. He opted to go to Tanzania with the only concern of searching his own fortune: « My only dream was to have at least a bike, nice clothes, a phone, a solar panel and money to build my own house. I got all that except the house. I intend to return soon, » he says.

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-04 at 09.19.04 (4)In Burundi, the average unemployment rate is over 60%. In addition, since the outbreak of the 2015 crisis, the main partners who used to finance 40% of the government’s budget have withdrawn. Their withdrawal worsened living conditions of the population that was already 65% below the poverty line.

This also discourages youth who thus does not want to waste time on school. One of the examples is Nduwimana. Shocked by the rising unemployment rate, he dropped out of school last September. « Most of my graduated neighbors do not have a job. I always see them at home. They are hungry. I do not want to waste my time at school like they did, » he says, then adds:« The life I lead in Tanzania is not the most extraordinary. But, despite the fatigue, I manage to get food and money I send to my parents. »


It is mainly adventure, the desire to work in a different cultural context, unemployment, poverty, the search for independence and fortune, which are at the origin of mass departures and « disappearances » of young people towards Tanzania. However, the conditions in which they live are deplorable. Since the only job that is available there is to work in the plantations, which are located very far away from the centers, and these young people are forced to sleep in forests and spend several weeks or even months there. As a result, they face several problems including diseases, attacks by armed bandits and animals.

In addition, there are no statistics on young Burundians who are prompted to drop out of school and go to Tanzania.

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