Crisis in Burundi

By Editorial Board - 14 July 2015 at 12:09 pm
Crisis in Burundi

When Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FND party won majority of the parliamentary
seats on June 29th polls, the future could not have appeared brighter for
President Pierre Nkurunziza. For one thing, it has set the mood for July 21st
presidential elections. However, Mr Nkurunzizaís bid for a third mandate
has plunged the country into a chaos reminiscent of its civil war roots.
Less than two weeks before people begin heading again to the polling
stations, the on-going crisis portends continued escalation of violence.

Having been elected by the parliamentary body, Mr Nkurunziza has been in
power since the end of the civil war in 2005. A former Minister for Good
Governance, his father was also a government official who got killed in the
1972 massacre of ethnic Hutus. The born-again Christian leader was also a
rebel commander of the then-largest anti-government group Forces for the
Defence of Democracry (FDD).

After the FDD joined the peace talks in November 2003, Mr Nkurunziza began
climbing the ranks of political life. The initial parliamentary appointment
was followed by election of popular vote in 2005. Five years after, he was
re-elected as president garnering more than 90% of the vote in spite of
opposition boycott.

But the events following his bid for presidency on April 25 signify the
growing opposition on what critics note as an unconstitutional move. The
day after his announcement, protesters began gathering in capital
Bujumbura, clashing with police forces and the government-allied youth wing
Imbonerakure militia. International media has confirmed the death of at
least 30 people and the injury of a hundred others. The presidential
elections originally slated for June 26 has been delayed several times,
until the Commission Electorale Nationale IndÈpendante (CENI) set a final
date on July 21.

As early as April, Burundians started fleeing to neighboring Rwanda,
Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo because of election-related
violence. Trickling from a couple of hundreds to around 7,000 thousand per
week, the refugees face dire conditions in camps rife with unfavorable
living conditions. A cholera outbreak in Tanzania has likewise put the
displaced population at risk, which claimed the lives of at least 31

What is worrying is the growing factionalism within the Burundian armed
forces. While police forces are actively conducting a crackdown on dissent,
soldiers from the National Defence Force (NDF) appeared reluctant to join.
Mr Nkurunziza did not see the end of resistance from his soldiers. Deputy
general Leonard Ngendakumana recently announced a group within the
military’s resolve to overthrow the incumbent government. While army chief
Godefroid Niyombare’s earlier coup attempt did not make Mr Nkurunziza
flinch, Mr Ngendakumana professed that his group will continue working to
oust the president.

The chances of a return to a civil war remain significant. Burundi with its
fragile political situation is running out of time to find an accepted
compromise, as the opposition coalition boycotted the parliamentary
elections, and will continue its non-participation with the presidential
vote. Mr Nkurunziza is accused of stoking the ethnic divisions barely
healed in the 2005 Arusha Accords.

However, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights (OHCHR) emphasized that the instability within Burundi can further
extend to the central African region as a whole. The refugee situation
notwithstanding, a large number of human rights defenders and journalists
have fled the country out of fear of reprisal from the government. Top
government officials likewise left the country, as they were afraid to show
approval on the controversial third mandate.

Despite the political stalemate and the country moving to the brink of
another civil war, the international community plays an important role in
returning the stability. Back in March 2015, United Nations Secretary
General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon pleaded for Mr Nkurunziza to reconsider his
decision. The appeal fell on deaf ears, and even the United States stern
warning to impose sanctions on perpetrators of election-related violence
remained unheard.

African democracies are comparably young compared to other
fairly-established democracies. But what conclusions can be drawn on the
future of politics in Burundi? Their current electoral process is marred by
the absence of an environment conducive to a free and fair representation
of all parties concerned. With only about three presidential elections
under its belt, the ironic situation is that a democratic process could
potentially set fire to a tinderbox to a renewed ethnic divide. On one
hand, the failure to continue with the elections could mean a missed
opportunity to uphold one of the promises of the Arusha Accords. But the
trouble with pushing through with such a controversial election, it can
also seal Burundi’s gloomy fate of succumbing to another decade and a half
of violence. The most cost-effective solution? Mr Nkurunziza should stop
seeking re-election.

Editorial Board

Editorial Board

Africa Times is an independent participative online news site for Sub-Saharan Africa. We aim to empower all African voices through publishing content by a range of people, from academics to bloggers. We are dedicated to bringing the world an African view on life, up-to-date African news and analysis.

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