President Nkurunziza’s April 2015 decision to run for a third, unconstitutional term sparked a wave of opposition and violent repression. His subsequent re-election in July 2015 has turned unrest into a low-intensity conflict that shows little sign of resolution. In this context, the economy and public finance are under stress and living conditions for Burundians have deteriorated. Over 400,000 Burundians have fled the country, while political and ethnic polarisation are affecting the integrity of the army. Through field-based research in Burundi and neighbouring countries, and engagement with both government and foreign actors, Crisis Group aims to reduce the risk of civil war, mass atrocities and a regional proxy conflict. We advocate for a credible, internationally-mediated national dialogue and a return to inclusive constitutional rule.
On 20 May, Burundians will elect a new president, future members of parliament and municipal councillors, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Q&A, Crisis Group looks at the various scenarios for the polls and the challenges that will face whoever prevails.
Inauguration of President-elect Ndayishimiye was fast-tracked following sudden death of incumbent President Nkurunziza, opposition continued to suffer repression from ruling party’s youth wing, and relations with Rwanda remained tense. Constitutional Court 4 June rejected presidential election runner-up Agathon Rwasa’s May appeal against provisional results and confirmed ruling party CNDD-FDD candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye as winner. Rwasa next day accepted decision and said he would not bring case before East African Community’s Court of Justice. With new president due to take office in Aug, death of President Nkurunziza 8 June created power vacuum. While some within CNDD-FDD called for National Assembly President Pascal Nyabenda to become interim president as foreseen by Constitution, govt 11 June asked Constitutional Court for guidance; Court next day ruled that President-elect Ndayishimiye should be sworn in immediately. In inauguration speech in capital Gitega 18 June, Ndayishimiye promised to carry on legacy of his predecessor. In session boycotted by opposition, National Assembly 23 June approved nomination of Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni as PM and Prosper Bazombanza as VP; Ndayishimiye 28 June appointed cabinet of 15 ministers dominated by regime hardliners; both Bunyoni and Interior Minister Gervais Ndirakobuca under international sanctions for alleged involvement in political repression and violence against civilians since 2015. Meanwhile, CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure continued to repress members of Rwasa’s National Congress for Freedom (CNL) party. Notably, Imbonerakure 10 June reportedly captured three CNL members whom they accused of celebrating Nkurunziza’s death in Citiboke province. Although Rwandan President Kagame congratulated Ndayishimiye for electoral victory 6 June and offered condolences over Nkurunziza’s death 10 June, reportedly his first public statements on Burundi since 2015, Burundi-Rwanda relations remained tense. Rwandan Defence Ministry 27 June said around 100 armed men from Burundi, some equipped with Burundian army material, attacked Rwandan Defence Forces in Ruheru sector near Burundian border; Burundi govt same day rejected accusation (see also Rwanda).
As May elections approach, Burundi’s ruling party says it has stopped demanding payments from citizens to finance the polls. But the confiscatory practice persists. Bujumbura should move decisively to halt it as a prelude to wider-ranging improvement of governance in the country.
Three Great Lakes states – Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda – are trading charges of subversion, each accusing another of sponsoring rebels based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Outside powers should help the Congolese president resolve these tensions, lest a lethal multi-sided melee ensue.
Talks about ending Burundi’s crisis – sparked by the president’s decision to seek a third term – have fizzled out. With elections nearing in 2020, tensions could flare. Strong regional pressure is needed to begin opening up the country’s political space before the balloting.
Au Burundi, le déclin de l’économie exacerbe le risque de violence. L’Union européenne et ses Etats membres, qui ont suspendu leur aide directe au gouvernement, doivent redoubler d’efforts pour que leur soutien bénéficie à la population.
Two years on, the Burundi crisis shows little sign of resolution. Political and ethnic polarisation are now tearing apart the integrity of the army, long seen as the primary achievement of the Arusha peace agreement in 2000 which brought an end to protracted civil conflict.
To reverse Burundi’s slide toward a devastating social and humanitarian emergency – as ethnically-charged rhetoric worsens and refugees flee to neighbouring countries – the African Union needs to overcome its internal divisions, fix a so far incoherent response and facilitate a negotiated settlement between the government and the opposition.
[In Burundi] the government is pushing back on international pressure, trying to convince international actors that everything is alright. Meanwhile, its population is suffering in silence.
Mobile phones and social media maintain a link between many of Burundi’s constituent parts that appear steadily more remote and disconnected: the diaspora and the refugee camps, capital city and rural areas, Burundi and the rest of the world.
The only thing that's important now, the only card to play at the moment, is to try and convince the neighbouring countries to put pressure on Burundi [to end the escalating violence].
Le discours de Bujumbura est un piège qui se referme sur lui.
C’est toujours la même rhétorique que le régime utilise comme réponse quand il est mis en cause à Genève, New York ou Addis-Abeba
Le régime burundais est en grande difficulté. Et le problème des gouvernements qui arrivent à bout d’arguments, c’est que ça mène à de plus en plus de violence.
President Tshisekedi’s plans for joint operations with DR Congo’s belligerent eastern neighbours against its rebels risks regional proxy warfare. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage diplomatic efforts in the region and Tshisekedi to shelve his plan for the joint operations.
African heads of state should press Burundi to open the political space, in particular letting opposition politicians campaign freely and safely and allowing in international observers, in order to prevent a reprise of past violence or worse.
Originally published in The East African
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.