President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza has launched his campaign on a national referendum that would change the constitution to allow for multiple seven-year terms in office – terms that he would be eligible to serve through 2034 if the changes go into effect.
Nkurunziza appeared Tuesday before throngs of Burundians in Bugendana, a town in the province of Gutenga that is central to Burundi’s history of conflict, to mark the official start of the campaign. The president said the constitutional changes were meant to put a permanent end to the country’s cycles of political and ethnic violence by ensuring strong institutions and their stability.
Nkurunziza said the changes would help Burundi to comply with legal requirements established for its participation in the East African Community, while removing “obsolete” elements of the constitution, the government said in a summary statement that did not specify reasons for the claim. He said that Burundians of all ethnicities and minorities, including gender, enjoy protections that will be maintained by the country’s constitution, but issued a stark warning against those who “would try to hinder the progress of this activity.”
Burundi’s move to change the constitution has raised alarm bells in the international community. It follows political violence and human rights abuses that escalated in 2015 when Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term, which was already a violation of the existing constitution and the Arusha Accords on which it is based.
In November, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged crimes and human rights violations despite Burundi’s withdrawal from ICC jurisdiction. Nkurunziza also has refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, denying them access while Burundi denies all claims of violations.
Image: Govt of Burundi