I heard shouts, and I saw a very young shirtless man who was speaking in an urgent tone with four policemen. The situation became tense very quickly. Suddenly, I saw one of the policemen slap him violently. The man tried to defend himself, but was quickly thrown to the ground by the officers, who wanted to bring him to the station. He was trying to get up, so the police started hitting him with a talkie-walkie. It was very violent, and the young man was yelling: “You’re beating me because I didn’t want to give you money! I’m just a lowly car window washer, leave me alone!”
The young man had several cuts on his face, and he was bleeding profusely. The people around did not dare to intervene directly, but some started to shout: “Aren’t you ashamed? Leave him alone!” After 20 minutes, the policemen finally left, leaving the car washer on the ground. He was bleeding everywhere. Several minutes later, the neighbourhood police chief arrived, dispersed the crowd, and brought the young man to the hospital.
Such incidents are sadly commonplace in Bujumbura. The police often demand bribes from taxi drivers, bus drivers, and street vendors, giving various flimsy pretexts. The policemen told the car washer that the city government had decided to ban car washing in the street [the city has adopted no such ordinance] and that he would need to pay them 2,000 Burundian francs [about 1 euro] in order to keep working. But 2,000 Burundian francs, that’s what he makes in a day!
The police didn’t care at all that I was filming what they were doing. They think they can get away with anything. Several hours earlier, other officers from the same police brigade had detained motorcycle taxi drivers that my colleagues and I were interviewing for a piece on the challenges they face [Editor’s Note: In March, the government decided to forbid motorcycle taxis
in the city centre]. The police didn’t provide any explanation; they just took them away.”