Burundi and COVID-19: Africa's Representation in the International Media

The East African nation of Burundi has been on a knife-edge since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Political tensions – which have always loomed large in the divided country – deepened in the leadup to the May 2020 elections. Concern grew about a rise in COVID-19 infections as scores of people turned up at rallies and public gatherings ahead of the polls. The World Health Organization (WHO) advised the government to implement preventive measures, including a lockdown and social distancing. This went unheeded. Instead, there was initial denialism about COVID-19 from the highest levels of government. Burundians were encouraged to go on with life and economic activities as normal. To make matters worse, the government expelled WHO officials from the country just a few days before the election. Healthcare workers feared that the infection was much higher than what was being reported. The international media’s response to these developments in Burundi was swift and critical. Broadly speaking, two issues became apparent: Firstly, the government of Burundi was prioritising politics over the lives of its people. Secondly, long-held assumptions about poor governance and mismanagement in Africa were further entrenched through coverage of Burundi’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This essay therefore discusses the country’s initial handling of COVID-19 as an example of why Africa’s image in the international media is predominantly negative.