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.
President Ndayishimiye continued to take steps to consolidate his rule and turned hostile toward neighbouring Rwanda. In session boycotted by main opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL), National Assembly 7 Aug elected new bureau: ruling party CNDD-FDD hardliner Daniel Gélase Ndabirabe appointed as president. Crackdown on opposition and civil society continued. CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 11 Aug arrested two CNL members in Mabayi commune, Cibitoke province, for allegedly vandalising CNDD-FDD property, and next day detained CNL member in Kanyosha commune, Bujumbura Rural province, on grounds of “insult to the head of state”. Suspected Imbonerakure 15 Aug threw grenade at house in Bukemba commune, Rutana province, killing four; CNL representatives said attack was targeted at party member. Police 25 Aug detained two CNL members in Kanyosha commune for allegedly belonging to armed group. Kayanza High Court 9 Aug sentenced three young individuals to 30 years in prison on charges of “attack and conspiracy against the head of state” after they allegedly threw rocks at president’s convoy in Kayanza province 5 Aug; civil society immediately denounced “politically motivated” decision in run-up to 24 Aug communal elections. Suspected members of Burundian rebel group Red-Tabara crossing from neighbouring DR Congo 23 Aug reportedly killed 11 civilians in Bugarama commune, Rumonge province; security forces killed five assailants. After Rwandan President Kagame in recent months stated willingness to improve relations with Burundi, Ndayishimiye 6 Aug said Burundi does not want relations with “hypocrite state” holding Burundian refugees hostage; statement follows late-July claim by five Burundian refugees that Rwanda is preventing their repatriation. Rwandan govt 12 Aug said it is ready to facilitate refugee returns but Burundi unwilling to mend ties. First group of 500 refugees returned to Burundi 27 Aug. Military intelligence chiefs from Rwanda and Burundi 26 Aug met at Nemba border post in Rwanda, agreed to cooperate on border security; first high-level meeting between neighbours since 2015.
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.