Congolese singer hits the right note with refugees and their hosts in Burundi

Ahadi Mathieu's song 'Stop Corona' is a creative effort to spread awareness about Covid-19 in Burundi's Nyankanda camp.

Burundi. Congolese singer spreads awareness on Covid-19

Congolese musician, Ahadi Mathieu, poses with his guitar in Nyankanda refugee camp, Burundi.  © UNHCR/Bernard Ntwari

When Ahadi Mathieu, 30, penned his song ‘Stop Corona’ nine months ago, he didn’t expect it to become such a hit among his fellow refugees and Burundians living around Nyankanda camp.

The music video already has over 500 views on YouTube – a sign of its growing popularity. The Congolese singer’s musical creativity and ability to bring people together and motivate them almost cost him his life, back home in Uvira, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

Ahadi was abducted from his home in Ndunda village three years ago by armed men who accused him of mobilizing people through his music that speaks about peace, love, and development. His family was forced to pay ransom for his release.

After the terrifying ordeal, Mathieu decided to flee.

“I am very sad to be away from my home, but I had no other option as I would have been killed,” he says. 

Once safe in Burundi, Mathieu who sings in Swahili, French and Kirundi, continued with his musical abilities and has to date produced five albums, with 60 songs.

“I’m using my talent to raise awareness about the pandemic and educate people on preventive measures,” he says.

He adds that there are many things that bring together refugees and their Congolese hosts in Nyankanda.

“We have the mixed market, education in schools and health in hospitals,” he says. 

His song is a significant contribution to the ongoing campaign to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and Mathieu considers it a powerful awareness tool.

He believes that people’s behaviour has changed, adding that more people are now aware of the pandemic and the measures to protect themselves against it through social distancing, hand washing and wearing face masks.

“People now rush to the nearest health center or hospital whenever they have a cough, fever, or headache and are increasingly requesting protective equipment like face masks,” he adds.

Burundi has developed a national plan and campaign to prevent and respond to the pandemic in the country and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is supporting the plan by providing vital support for testing all Burundian refugees in transit centers who are returning from neighboring countries. 

On his latest visit to Burundi in April, UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, praised the progress made towards helping Burundian refugees find long-term solutions and promised to contribute to the national Covid-19 plan by supporting the establishment of an isolation and treatment center.  

Burundi hosts over 81,000 refugees who live in five refugee camps and in urban areas, majority of whom come from the DRC.

According to Burundi’s Public Health Ministry, over 35,000 Covid-19 tests have been conducted since March 2020 – over 5, 000 tested positive, including 263 returning Burundians and 20 refugees. 

The Government is yet to decide on a rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination of its population, which would also pave the way for the vaccination of refugees in Burundi. UNHCR is advocating with the national public health authorities to include refugees in the national campaigns, to enable them access important services like testing.

“It is important to include refugees in national public health plans, particularly the COVID-19 prevention plans,” explains Abdul Karim Ghoul, UNHCR’s Representative in Burundi. “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

UNHCR has established preventive measures in refugee camps and has encouraged and supported refugees to make facemasks as a source of income. Sanitation materials, including bars of soap and handwashing points have also been provided.

“We are supporting the national Covid-19 plan and this includes providing testing in transit centers for Burundian refugees who are voluntarily returning home,” adds Ghoul. 

Matthieu is glad that his music is helping to spread awareness. 

“Mine is a humble contribution to the fight against COVID-19,” he says. “Everyone must work together to overcome it and heal together.”