Op-Ed / Africa 31 August 2008 Burundi: Arusha Spirit Must Prevail Share Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Whatsapp Save Print Burundi’s political situation is apparently calm and improving. The latest political crisis has been resolved, the blocking of government actions in parliament has ended, and since the return of its leader, Agathon Rwasa, to Bujumbura, progress is being made towards a settlement with the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People-National Forces of Liberation (Palipehutu-FNL), the last active rebel movement in the country. Yet this calm is misleading. Unless political dialogue is restarted between the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and the opposition parties, political tensions will jeopardise the preparations for a free, fair and peaceful electoral process in 2010 and ethnic violence could once again endanger the stability of the country. In early June 2008, the ruling party muscled through a final resolution to the endless political deadlock that undermined its actions since its 2005 electoral victory, and successfully pressured the Constitutional Court to authorise the replacement of 22 dissident MPs with supporters loyal to its leadership. The CNDD-FDD and its allies thus regained a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, giving them the required political strength to legislate without further compromise with the opposition. Simultaneously, after a military confrontation in which the national army defeated the rebel group, the government finally obtained a permanent cessation of hostilities agreement from the Palipehutu-FNL, and after Rwasa was almost handed-over to Bujumbura by Tanzania, a commitment to the negotiated resolution of the conflict was also signed. Three years after its electoral victory, the CNDD-FDD appeared to finally be in a position to rule single-handedly and use the full extent of its powers. This is dangerous for the country. First, the CNDD-FDD seems animated by an ambition of political domination that could put at risk Burundi’s democracy. Even though opposition parties bore large responsibility for the political crises that has paralysed state institutions since 2005, equitable power-sharing between parties is a constitutional requirement and must be respected. Yet, since January, the CNDD-FDD is trying to reduce all checks and balances against its powers, including attacks and judicial procedures against representatives of the independent media and unions, as well as human-rights and anti-corruption activists and non-governmental organisations. Second, Burundi’s stability is closely related to the historical compromise negotiated between Hutu and Tutsi political forces in Arusha. This compromise provided the political framework for the integration of Hutu rebels in the Tutsi dominated army and for the electoral process that brought the CNDD-FDD to power. Any attempt to undermine the fundamental pillars of the 2003 settlement could lead to a new radicalisation of political forces — or even compromise the basis for the integration of FDD forces within the army. An alliance between opposition forces and the Palipehutu-FNL is also possible and could lead to the dangerous re-introduction of references to ethnicity in the national debate. Last but not least, the lack of internal dialogue between parties runs the risk of a premature loss of credibility and legitimacy for the 2010 polls. Burundi cannot afford an escalation of tensions and violent clashes during the electoral campaign, in a context where FNL disarmament will have barely started and the issue of the integration of former rebels into state institutions and security forces may have remained unresolved. The spirit of Arusha must prevail. Only dialogue and compromise between Burundi’s political parties, aiming at a consensus on legislative and possible constitutional reforms, can set up the adequate framework for the organisation of free, credible and peaceful elections in 2010. In the short term, a political agreement must be reached on the resolution of conflicts of competence between ministers and deputy-ministers from different parties, the representation of the opposition in the administration and a minimal programme of economic, fiscal and legislative reforms so as to finally bring peace dividends to the population. Such a compromise-driven internal political dialogue might be helped by the creation of the office of the ombudsman, as provided by the Constitution. A national committee on institutional reforms, comprising all political sensitivities and ethno-regional realities, could also launch a large consultation on the necessary amendments to the fundamental law, supported internationally by the United Nations Peace-building Commission. A consultation with International partners will be necessary on the need for international support to the organisation of elections. The presence of international police units, alongside local security forces should be considered. Burundi’s financial partners and guarantors to the peace process should finally set up a contact group, to better co-ordinate and harmonise their actions and messages vis-à-vis Burundian political actors. Unless national dialogue is restarted to reduce political tensions ahead of the 2010 electoral campaign, Burundi could jeopardise its fragile stability and lose all the gains of a difficult but successful peace process. 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