Is Burundi turning into another Rwanda?

Is Burundi turning into another Rwanda?
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Burundi is exposed to political and economic instability, and there is an ever-growing risk of ethnic violence. The upcoming elections will have an impact on regional security, as well.

Land-locked Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. With July’s elections looming, the decade-long ruling party in Burundi is expected to retain power. Since April, protesters have taken to the streets over Nkurunziza’s controversial bid to extend his rule of ten years, arguing that it violates the two-term limit agreement.

With at least 70 people killed since April 26, when Nkurunziza first announced his intention to run, violence has plunged the African nation into its worst quandary since the end of its ethnically-sparked civil war.

It is no secret that Nkurunziza’s dishonest tendencies have fueled widespread dissatisfaction. Deemed one of the most corrupt countries in sub-Saharan Africa, nepotism and bribery plague the government sector.

Private property is, for example, exposed to government expropriation and armed banditry. It is a well-known fact that Burundi’s allegedly independent judiciary sector is constantly subject to undue political pressure.

In fact, it came as little surprise when the constitutional court granted President Pierre Nkurunziza eligibility to run for a third term, on the grounds that he was appointed by parliament, rather than elected by people, during his first term.

This has inevitably sparked a fresh wave of protests, as turmoil continues to rock Burundi. Many critics contend the court is biased and have vowed to continue protesting until Nkurunziza withdraws from the race.

Agathon Rwasa, Burundi’s leading opposition candidate, maintains peaceful and free elections are impossible and has requested the electoral commission to postpone the imminent election. The uneven playing field in the electoral campaign, with Nkurunziza profiting from control of state resources and media access, cannot go unnoticed.

Much of the international effort has been focused on pressuring Nkurunziza to step down. The United States has even threatened to impose sanctions on anyone involved in violence against those protesting Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term.

Brutal clashes between police and protesters have sent a disturbing flow of refugees to neighboring nations. The United Nations estimates that over 105,000 refugees have poured into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda. There is growing concern that these protests could lead to a deeper political crisis.

Of Hutus and Tutsis

In one of the most volatile regions in Africa, Burundi’s history of ethnic violence makes it predisposed to deep divisions. Since attaining independence in 1962 from Portugal, tension between the usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority has haunted Burundi.

It was precisely tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis that fueled Burundi’s civil war, which lasted from 1993 until 2003, and left an estimated 300,000 people dead.

Alarm bells have been triggered that Burundi is headed in the direction of neighboring Rwanda, a country that in 1994 endured one of the worst genocides in history: an estimated 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. Hutu extremists slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus, often with machetes. Like Rwanda, Burundi consists of a Hutu majority and a Tutsi minority.

There is a real threat that violence between Hutus and Tutsi in Burundi may spill into neighboring Rwanda and in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, two nations where Hutus and Tutsis face a strained coexistence, and trigger a broader ethnic conflict.

Rwanda’s President Tutsi Paul Kagame played a crucial role in ending his country’s Hutu-committed genocide and is unlikely to stand by if fellow Tutsis are killed in Burundi.

Poverty has long plagued Burundi. For several decades, it has been amongst the world’s highest aid recipients, receiving roughly $522 million in 2012. A whopping 42% of Burundi’s national income depends on foreign aid, the second highest rate in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Food, medicine, and electricity are considered a luxury in a country where at least 68% of its 10.4 million people live below the poverty line and less than 2% have access to electricity.

For economic development, there is no greater enemy than war. With government corruption already hindering progress, economic stagnation is likely to follow as investors shy away from the growing chaos. Animosity remains high and security forces continue deployed in Bujumbura’s popular areas. With the president bent on preserving power, the country is dangerously divided.

About Author

Itziar Aguirre

Itziar currently works as a Research Consultant at JLL, a commercial real estate capital intermediary. She holds an MBA in Accounting and Finance from the University of St. Thomas and an MSc in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics.