Burundi’s president on Monday chose to skip key regional talks, opting to stay at home instead in order to campaign for a controversial third term in power as a rebel general threatened to step up attacks.
Leaders of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) bloc met in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam on Monday to discuss the ongoing political situation in Burundi. A statement released shortly after the summit indicated that East African leaders have called on the Burundian government to delay the 15 July presidential election by two weeks, effectively moving it to 30 July. During the meeting, leaders also named Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as mediator of a dialogue between the Burundian government and the opposition. The decision comes in the wake of the ruling party stating that UN mediator Abdoulaye Bathily must immediately stop his work as he began without first being received by the government. Nyabenda has indicated that the ruling CNDD-FDD party is ready to work with the Ugandan President Museveni’s mediation efforts. The EAC also called on Burundi to disarm armed groups, including the Imbonerakure, or youth wing of Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party, and for rival factions to form a government of national unity “irrespective of whoever wins the presidential election.”
On Tuesday, Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party indicated that it will conditionally accept the call by the EAC to delay the 15 July presidential election by two weeks, effectively moving it to 30 July. Party chairman Pascal Nyabenda has disclosed that any decision to delay the vote must ensure that the constitution, which mandates that presidential elections cannot go beyond 26 July, is not violated, with the constitution also stating that the president-elect must be sworn in by 26 August. President Nkurunziza opted to miss Monday’s summit and instead sent his foreign minister. Nkurunziza stayed in Burundi to lead his presidential campaign in the central regions of Gitega and Mwaro.
Official results released Tuesday indicate that the ruling party of President Nkurunziza has swept to an expected overwhelming victory in controversial parliament elections that were boycotted by the opposition. The election commission announced that the CNDD-FDD party won 77 out of 100 selected seats in parliament, with two more seats going to its ally UPRONA. The election commission also announced that despite the opposition boycotting the polls, and calling on its supporters not to vote, the coalition Independents of Hope group of Agathon Rwasa and Charles Nditije won 11 seats. The commission has indicated that overall, voter turnout was 74 percent. The opposition has rejected the results, with Rwasa stating shortly after the announcement, “we reject these results because the parliament and legislative elections were not credible.” Both the African Union (AU) and European Union have condemned the polls. Former colonial power Belgium has also stated that it will not recognize the results.
Meanwhile rebel general Leonard Nendakumana, who took part in a failed coup in May, has vowed to carry out further attacks until the government is overthrown. In an interview that was broadcast late Sunday, Nendakumana told Kenya’s KTN news agency, “after we saw that we could not succeed our coup on May 15, we found it was necessary to keep fighting so that we can push Nkurunziza to keep thinking about what he is doing and maybe just resign,” adding, “all those actions that are going on in the country, we are behind them and we are going to intensify them until Pierre Nkurunziza understands that we are there to make him understand by force that he has to give up his third term.” Nendakumana further stated, “there was a need to organize that coup to make a change in the country because the situation was very bad… Mr Nkurunziza and his team were leading the country in a situation of civil war, and we could not accept that our population, our country, were led into a civil war,” adding “they are trying to move towards an open civil war just to find a way to protect themselves.”
General Nendakumana, a top intelligence officer, is an ally of coup leader General Godefroid Niyombare, who has been on the run since their attempt to seize power failed. In more than two months of protests, over seventy people have been killed, with almost 1440,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.
After a regional summit on the on going political crisis in Burundi was held in neighbouring Tanzania on Sunday, East African leaders declared that the upcoming elections in Burundi should be delayed by at least a month and a half and that the on going violence must end. The leaders, however, stopped short of calling for Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon his controversial bid for a third consecutive term in office, which has effectively sparked weeks of civil unrest, a coup attempt and a major refugee crisis that is now affecting the region.
In a statement read out the East African Community’s (EAC) secretary general Richard Sezibera, which was released shortly after a meeting of regional leaders was held in neighbouring Tanzania, the East African leaders stated “the summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half.” The statement further called “on all parties to stop violence,” for the “disarmament of all armed youth groups,” which is a clear reference to the ruling party’s supporters who have been accused of attacking the party’s opponents, and for “the creation of conditions for the return of refugees” who have fled the crisis. The EAC summit was attended by leaders from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is a key regional player and Burundi’s neighbour, sent a minister to represent him. South African President Jacob Zuma was also present at the talks. The summit had been seen as a critical opportunity to resolve the crisis, with talks between the president’s camp and the main opposition currently at a deadlock.
President Nkurunziza was not present during Sunday’s summit, with his spokesman indicating that the president would instead be pushing ahead with his re-election campaign. However it is widely believed that the president’s absence is linked to the 13 May failed coup attempt, which occurred when President Nkurunziza attended the first crisis meeting in Tanzania’s economic capital. In an attempt to benefit from the president being out of the country, a top general launched an unsuccessful bid to oust him.
The political crisis in Burundi erupted after the ruling party designated President Nkurunziza, who has been in power for ten years, as its candidate for the upcoming elections. The opposition and rights groups however have indicated that this move effectively violates the constitution as well as a 2006 peace agreement, which ended the country’s 13-year civil war. That war killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and there are now growing fears that the current political crisis may push the country back into conflict. Despite the civil unrest leaving at least 30 people dead, the Burundian government has maintained that parliamentary elections will take place on 5 June, with presidential elections scheduled for 26 June.