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.
Authorities continued to harass opposition while country’s removal from UN Security Council agenda marked major victory for President Ndayishimiye. Unidentified assailants 2 Dec killed two members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) in Butaganzwa commune, Ruyigi province. Police 14 Dec arrested six CNL members in Mutimbuzi commune, Bujumbura Rural province on suspicion of supporting rebel group. In joint report on human rights violations, 15 civil society organisations 10 Dec recorded 821 arbitrary arrests, 368 extrajudicial killings, 182 torture cases and 59 enforced disappearances in 2020; report identified CNL members and ethnic Tutsis as main victims, and security forces and ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure as main perpetrators. Ndayishimiye 30 Dec said Burundian Tutsis are over-represented in international organisations, vowed to “purify the dirty water” in Burundi. Meanwhile, govt relations with international community thawed. UN Security Council 4 Dec removed Burundi from its agenda; thousands of ruling-party supporters 12 Dec celebrated move in capital Gitega, economic capital Bujumbura and Ngozi city. Ndayishimiye 7 Dec met EU Ambassador Claude Bochu in Bujumbura; first meeting between EU and Burundian head of state since EU suspended financial cooperation with govt in 2016. FM Albert Shingiro 10-11 Dec also met Bochu alongside Belgian, French, German and Dutch ambassadors in Bujumbura to discuss normalisation of relations with EU. Former President Buyoya 18 Dec died of COVID-19 in France; Buyoya had resigned as African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel late Nov after Supreme Court in Oct sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment for involvement in murder of Hutu President Ndadaye in 1993. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 15 Dec expressed concern about “violation of fundamental rights” of Burundian refugees in Tanzania, including cases of forced eviction.
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.
We should not expect spectacular reversals. Ndayishimiye is himself a product of the CNDD-FDD system and… must ensure the loyalty of the executives who were not necessarily in favour of his designation.
This could be a first sign that [Ndayishimiye] will be able to take decisions that will not blindly follow in his predecessor's steps.
[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.
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.