Two Years and No End in Sight to Burundi’s Political CrisisMay 2, 2017 in Burundi, Uncategorized
Two years after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza plunged the country into turmoil, the regime shows no sights of easing up on a crackdown, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee. In April 2015, President Nkurunziza sought a third term in office, effectively politically destabilizing the country in a move that continues to be felt today, both within and regionally. His move not only violated the country’s two term-limit, as set by the constitution, but it also violated a 2006 peace deal, which ended a dozen years of civil war. At the time, he claimed that his first term in office did not count as he was appointed after the war and not directly elected. More recently, he has suggested a possible change to Burundi’s constitution, which would let him run again in 2020.
During this period, President Nkurunziza’s ruling CND-FDD party has unleashed its feared youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, who now reign with impunity across much of the country. According to Florent Geet of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “the Imbonerakure have become the spearhead of the repression, they have spread out across the country identifying and harassing the opposition.” The United Nations has estimated that at least 500 people have been killed since April 2015, with aid groups warning that as many as 2,000 people have died. The UN rights chief condemned the youth wing in April for repeatedly calling for the rape and murder of opposition supporters, stating that it amounts to a “campaign of terror.”
The Burundian government however has rejected all of the UN’s reports on the violence and calls for inquiries, as well as a Security Council resolution seeking the deployment of 228 police officers. It has also attempted to play down the security issues, with the country’s first vice president, Gasont Sindimwo stating, “the crisis is behind us, security is assured, peace has retuned to Burundi and everyone is going about their business.” This however is in stark contrast to what opposition leaders as well as NGO’s have said, noting that this claim of “peace” is the result of brutal repression, which has left hundreds dead. Witnesses have also reported that the Imbonerakure often set up roadblocks to search vehicles heading north into Rwanda or south into Tanzania, arresting scores of “suspects.” One resident of the capital, Bujumbura, has disclosed that “the entire population is terrorised because anyone can arrest you in the street and you wont be heard from again,” adding that “the fear is so strong that sometimes a father wont dare ask the security services for news of his missing son.” A UN diplomat in Geneva has also reported that “the regime in Burundi has grown more radicalized, but it has taken advantage of the growing divisions on the Security Council as well as the paralysis of the African Union, which has allowed it to act with incomplete impunity.”
The political opposition, and many elements of civil society in general, have fled the country, making it even more difficult for a solution to the political crisis. An opponent of the regime has disclosed that the opposition has also been weakened by internal divisions and “inflated egos among some of us.” Furthermore, negotiations between the regime and the CNARED, an umbrella of opposition groups, have stalled despite international pressure and financial sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU). A foreign diplomat in Bujumbura has also disclosed that the government is worried about rebel groups forming in neighbouring countries, including the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forebu), which mainly consists of deserting police and soldiers.
The East African Community is planning a summit meeting in May, with many officials seeing it as the last chance to find a diplomatic solution to a crisis that has prompted more than 400,000 people to flee the country.