BURUNDI’S president has sparked outrage by banning all women from playing drums.

According to Daily Monitor, President Pierre Nkurunziza late last month issued this decree: “It is strictly forbidden to those of the female sex to beat drums. They can however carry out female folk dances accompanying the drums.”

For centuries, Burundi’s famous ritual dance of the royal drums has been a pillar of the country’s heritage. So central are drums to the nation’s identity that the Kirundi word for drum is “ingoma”, which also means “kingdom”.

Traditionally, men drummed while women danced.

In recent times though, drumming and dancing have become an industry, and women have been taking the opportunity to earn money. They perform “cultural shows” at events like weddings and baptisms.

But Nkurunziza intends to put an end to this modern interpretation of tradition in what critics are saying is another example of his heavy-handed approach to ruling the country.

From now on, event organisers will have to pay the government a hefty fee of about R4 000 for permission to perform the traditional drumming and dancing. Those wishing to perform internationally will have to cough up a whole lot more.

“This decree means the drums no longer belong to Burundian citizens but to the government,” Pacifique Nininahazwe, an exiled civil society leader is quoted as saying.

Nkurunziza was a Hutu rebel leader during Burundi’s civil war (1993 – 2006). He became the first democratically elected president in 1994, but is widely criticised for his repressive style of governance.