Burundi Crisis beyond Nkurunziza’s Re-Election

Burundi Crisis beyond Nkurunziza’s Re-Election

Mounting political unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision in April to seek a third term has left dozens dead. His rejection of the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) further heightens the crisis.

In April 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would seek a controversial third term contrary to the 2005 power-sharing peace deal that ended Burundi’s 12-year civil war which claimed 300,000 lives. Leading up to the elections, police used live ammunition and excessive force to run off protesters opposed to President Nkurunziza’s third term bid. It has been almost nine months of unrest since Mr. Nkurunziza’s made the announcement

Battle of ascendancy

The reportage that the crisis in Burundi is purely political is inaccurate; It is moving beyond the controversial re-election of President Nkurunziza towards a battle of ascendancy. Like Rwanda, the population of Burundi is divided between the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes. Born in Bujumbura, Nkurunziza is a former Hutu rebel that has ruled since Burundi’s last civil war in 2005.

As indicated by the United Nations, at least 400 people have been killed and thousands displaced since the violence began. Burundian officials earlier accused Rwanda of supporting an insurgency against President Nkurunziza, but the president of Rwanda subsequently refuted the allegation in a press briefing. The situation remains volatile and unpredictable.

Allegations remain that the security forces responded to protests by dragging men – both Hutus as well as Tutsis opposed to the re-election – out of their homes and executing them, especially in the capital’s neighbourhoods. Widespread intimidation preceded the election as the government forbade freedom of expression. Several radio stations were suspended, the police and other security forces overawed members of opposition parties – largely ethnically mixed, journalists, activists, as well as protesters. At least 200,000 people have fled the country since April.

The United Nations has declared the Burundi elections not free or credible. Fears persist that Burundi could slide into genocide even as the United Nations indicates it is properly positioned to intervene in the conflict. Conversely, emerging evidence indicates that the U.N is not prepared to handle a possible breakout of ethnic civil war in Burundi.

Hate speech

The UN secretary-general cautions that Burundi was on “the brink of a civil war that risks engulfing the entire region.” The world is yet to disremember Burundi’s enduring history of deadly ethnic conflicts, between the Hutus majority and the Tutsi-led army, almost a decade after a similar war in neighboring Rwanda. While the current violence appears more politically motivated, Tutsis in Bujumbura have alleged that most of the attacks by Burundian security forces have been on Tutsi neighbourhoods. Moreover, security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and torture.

The authorities have denied carrying out arbitrary arrests or killings. At least one high government official, a Hutu, is known to have promoted hate speech using a word used by Rwandan Hutu extremists to promote genocide in 1994. The fear is that as the international community continues to nurse the agitation, the violence may lead to an ethnic civil war.

While the African Union’s Peace and Security Council has indicated that it has concluded plans to deploy a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force to curtail the ongoing violence and protect civilians in Burundi, the troops are yet to be deployed. In reaction, the government of Burundi rejected the AU’s plan, threatening to fight African Union peacekeepers if they are deployed into the country.

Halting violence before it hurts the world

Burundi is one of the poorest countries of the world, and the fallout of the crisis continues to harm its economy. As the crisis deteriorates, Burundi’s unemployed youths become possible target of conscription for the warring sides in the days to come. Therefore it will be an enlightened self-interest for the AU and the UN to have a proper assessment of the situation with a view to halting the crisis before it hurts the world.

Both the AU and the UN must investigate the alleged systematic killings and hateful speeches in Burundi. Having frustrated mediation efforts, The Africa Union should enforce its decision to send forces to Burundi, in accordance with its charter, so it can prevent further deterioration of the security situation. Amid its multidimensional crisis at the moment, the worst thing that can happen to Africa is another Rwandan-style genocide.

About Author

Tolulope Ola-David

Tolulope Ola-David is a Political Risk Analyst specialising in the political climate and social conditions of Africa.