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AU Must Re-engage in Burundi to Push for Inclusivity as a Way out of Violence
AU Must Re-engage in Burundi to Push for Inclusivity as a Way out of Violence
A suspect identified by a former rebel as being involved in the burial of bodies at a mass grave is detained by police officers at the scene of the grave in Mutakura, Burundi, 29 February 2016. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana
Report 235 / Africa

Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term

The current political crisis has reopened the wounds of Burundi’s past. Hardliners now dominant in the government brutally stifle dissent, fuel ethnic hatred, and undermine the Arusha accord that framed Burundi’s peace for the past decade. The international community should push toward real dialogue, and prepare to intervene if violence escalates.

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Executive Summary

One year after President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term sparked the crisis, the situation remains critical. The radicalisation of the regime, which had been steadily increasing since the second post-conflict elections in 2010 and intensified by tensions over the third term in 2015, has seen the rise of the most hard-line leaders of the ruling party. These figures are determined to do away with the institutional system established by the Arusha accord – an agreement between Hutu and Tutsi elites in 2000 which put in place an ethnic quota system for state institutions, including the army, and established a two-term presidential limit. This political strategy to dismantle the accord and the return of violent rhetoric and tactics reminiscent of the civil war, have generated great fear within Burundian society – which, although deeply alarmed, has not yet given in to politicians’ tactics of inciting ethnic hatred. With the government and opposition invited to meet in Tanzania on 21 May, it is imperative that the guarantors of the Arusha accord call on them to engage in a meaningful dialogue on the future of the peace agreement and avoid a repeat of the country’s tragic past.

Violence, fear, socio-economic decline and deepening social fractures have characterised the beginning of the president’s third term. Following protests in April 2015 and Nkurunziza’s re-election in July, confrontation has taken the form of urban guerrilla warfare which, beyond the targeted assassinations, torture and disappearances, has had an insidious and devastating impact. By using ethnically-charged rhetoric and demonstrating an obvious desire to bring the democratic consensus of the Arusha accord to an end, the regime has ruptured its relations with part of the population. Some 250,000 Burundians have fled, including a significant portion of the political and economic establishment as well as civil society activists. The flight has drained Burundi of its most dynamic citizens and exposed divisions between the regime on one hand, and the army, the capital and the Tutsi community on the other. Trade between Bujumbura and the countryside has also been disrupted and, according to recent estimates, 10 per cent of the population (1.1 million people) are in need of humanitarian assistance of some kind.

The paradox at the heart of this confrontation is that while Burundi has democratised, the ruling party, the Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), has not. An institutionalised ethnic power-sharing system is completely divorced from a radicalised ethnically-homogenous party reverting to its historical roots (rebel leaders of the civil war era). As the opposition, now forced into exile, seems unable to overcome its own longstanding ethnic cleavages, the regime’s current strategy of repression (alleging a Tutsi conspiracy, breaking up the security services and creating units loyal to the regime) has revived fears of genocidal violence within the Tutsi community. There are no signs at present that the population is ready to be mobilised for violence on ethnic grounds. But the simmering social and humanitarian crisis, part of the population’s physical, political and economic insecurity, and fear itself, have created the perfect conditions for the situation’s further deterioration and ethnic polarisation.

While many Burundians and the international community believed the ethnic problem had been solved with the Arusha accord, it has returned to the fore with President Nkurunziza’s third term. To reverse this trend, a debate should be organised on the necessary amendments to the peace agreement. The regime is presently staging sham debates through a “national dialogue” which remains completely under its control. Ideally, a debate on the Arusha accord would take place in Burundi. This, however, would require the government to lift current restrictions on civil liberties (freedom of expression, press and assembly, etc.) and allow the opposition to return from exile.

Before these conditions are met and in order to overcome the current impasse, a discussion between the opposition and the government on the future of the Arusha accord should take place outside of the country under the auspices of the guarantors of the peace agreement. The meeting called by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa on 21 May should be the first step in the dialogue on the future of the Arusha accord. In parallel, international actors, the UN and the African Union (AU) in particular, should take measures to prevent the crisis from descending into ethnic conflict and a humanitarian emergency, and prepare for an immediate intervention to prevent large-scale violence.

Recommendations

To reduce tensions, restart the dialogue and convince the government and the opposition to participate

To the government:

  1. Engage in constructive dialogue with the opposition, allow the media and civil society to work independently and free from fear, and revise its violent approach to political dissent.

To the opposition:

  1. Renounce violence and, for the unarmed opposition in exile, engage in a constructive dialogue with the government and resolve internal disagreements in order to present a common front and clear positions.

To the UN, African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC) and European Union (EU):

  1. Formalise a single international mediation structure in order to speak with one voice.

To the guarantors of the Arusha accord (in particular Tanzania and South Africa):

  1. Form a working group comprising the National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Accord and the Rule of Law (Conseil national pour le respect de l’ac­cord d’Arusha pour la paix et la réconciliation au Burundi et de l’Etat de droit, CNARED), the National Forces of Liberation (Forces nationales de libération, FNL), and the CNDD-FDD tasked with discussing the necessary amendments to be made to the Arusha peace agreement.

To the AU and the EU:

  1. Agree on how to implement the EU decision to change the financing arrangements for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by bypassing the government and disbursing funds directly to the soldiers.
     
  2. The AU and its partners should also look for another troop contributing country to eventually replace Burundian soldiers within AMISOM in order to prevent Burundian authorities from using participation in the mission as diplomatic leverage.

To prevent a descent into ethnic conflict and be ready to intervene in case of mass violence

To donors who suspended part of their financial aid (the EU, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Switzerland):

  1. Contribute financially to track hate speech by the authorities and the opposition in order to fight attempts at ethnic polarisation. Burundian NGOs, with the assistance of some donors, have already begun doing this, but they require further assistance, specifically to cover speeches by local authorities in the provinces. Financial assistance for the documentation of human rights abuses should also be sustained and increased.

To the UN, the AU, the EU and bilateral partners:

  1. The AU should put in place and the EU and the U.S. should expand sanctions regimes to include those propagating hate speech.
     
  2. Agree to deploy immediately several hundred human rights observers and armed international police.
     
  3. Take the necessary measures so that a rapid deployment force can be dispatched in case of emergency, which could include troops from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

To Burundian and international NGOs involved in local conflict resolution before the current crisis with local mediation structures in place:

  1. Reorient the work of these structures toward the documentation of human rights abuses and hate speech in Bujumbura and in the provinces.

To mitigate the impact of the economic and social crisis on the population

To donors who suspended part of their financial aid (the EU, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Switzerland):

  1. Verify the political neutrality and technical reliability of non-governmental actors in the context of changing the terms of aid provision. This requires a rigorous political and operational assessment of these actors. For some of them, a partnership with international NGOs and a strengthening of their financial and managerial capacities will be essential.
     
  2. Fund monitoring mechanisms to evaluate the status of food security and sanitation, and conduct budgetary studies to identify the breaking point of key health and agricultural sectors in order to calibrate the financial support they need. Donors should ensure financing changes to their programs do not result in the interruption of all ongoing funding.
     
  3. Create a committee to monitor the Burundian economy, specifically in the health and agriculture sectors and access to basic services.
     
  4. Make available funds for the humanitarian response plan, which remains under-funded.

Nairobi/Brussels, 20 May 2016

Op-Ed / Africa

AU Must Re-engage in Burundi to Push for Inclusivity as a Way out of Violence

Originally published in The East African

The constitutional changes, if passed, could reset the clock on term limits for President Pierre Nkurunziza — potentially giving him an additional 14 years in power — and paving the way for the dismantling of ethnic balances embedded in the 2000 Arusha Agreement, which brought an end to Burundi’s protracted civil war. 

The official results of the Burundi referendum were announced on Monday 21 May. Unsurprisingly, the government's proposed changes were approved. The opposition has refused to recognise the result. In this op ed, published in the East African just after the vote, our Project Director for Central Africa and our African Union Adviser look at the context of this fraught referendum and lay out measures the AU should now take.

Burundi held a referendum on Thursday amid growing violence, and intimidation as the government tried to silence voices opposed to its plan to alter the constitution.

The changes, if passed could reset the clock on term limits for President Pierre Nkurunziza — potentially giving him an additional 14 years in power — and paving the way for the dismantling of ethnic balances embedded in the 2000 Arusha Agreement, which brought an end to Burundi’s protracted civil war.

According to the new Constitution, clauses guaranteeing the minority Tutsi community a 40 or 50 per cent share of posts in some state institutions will be reviewed over the next five years.

In the context of the ruling CNDD-FDD’s increasing authoritarianism, there seems little chance that these assurances would survive such a review.

The African Union (AU), as an Arusha guarantor, has an obligation to uphold the Accord’s central principles. It must re-engage to prevent Burundi sliding back into open conflict ahead of the 2020 elections.

Climate of fear

Since the referendum was announced in December, the government’s political crackdowns, together with local revenge attacks and racketeering, have led to increasing violations of human rights.

The 430,000 refugees in neighbouring countries — the majority of whom fled in 2015 and 2016 due to intimidation of opponents of President Nkurunziza’s third term — show little sign of wanting to come home, despite being pressured by host countries to return.

The security services and the Imbonerakure, the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, have targeted opposition party members and citizens calling for a no-vote, in particular members of the FNL-Rwasa party, which challenges the CNDD-FDD for the Hutu vote in-country.

Since the referendum was announced in December, the government’s political crackdowns, together with local revenge attacks and racketeering, have led to increasing violations of human rights.

Police and intelligence agents have carefully monitored campaign meetings and those who call openly for a no-vote face intimidation or worse. Those lucky enough to be arrested, rather than disappearing, join a growing number of civil society activists in prison, most recently human rights defender Germain Rukuki, sentenced to 32 years in prison for supposedly undermining state security.

To anyone familiar with the ethnic violence of Burundi’s past, motivated, in the words of the Arusha Agreement, by the desire to seek or retain political power, these arrests and disappearances are worrying.

Worse still, the government is propagating a virulent public discourse inciting violence against all who oppose it. The president himself set the tone on December 12 when, in announcing the referendum, said anyone opposing it would be “crossing a red line.” Since then, party militants have attacked those campaigning against the referendum or for voting no.

The government’s intention to dismantle the gains of Arusha has long been clear. In March 2014 it tried, but failed, to revise the Constitution through parliament.

Since 2015, the government has advanced its agenda through a carefully constructed doctrine according to which it, and by extension Burundian Hutus, are the victims of an international plot.

While ordinary people have remained resistant to the spectre of ethnic division, the administration has pushed what Crisis Group has previously called “ethnicisation from above,” wherein the country’s troubles are laid at the door of individuals of Tutsi ethnicity (such as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame or former president Pierre Buyoya) in association with others (the United Nations Commission of Enquiry, the European Union, the International Criminal Court and the AU) who speak out against abuses.

Increasingly the divide is painted in stark religious terms: Between a divinely ordained president and his enemies’ evil machinations.

African solutions

Changing the Constitution in order to stay in power has long been a grey area in the AU’s governance doctrine. Consequently, the continent’s response to Burundi’s three-year-old crisis has been uneven.

The AU reacted early and firmly to the initial turmoil. As events unfolded, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) voiced its concern and attempted to deploy mediators, envoys and human rights observers. As violence peaked at the end of 2015, the PSC authorised a stabilisation force, MAPROBU.

Troops were never deployed, following a relative calming of the situation in-country at the start of 2016.

Bruised and shaken by the MAPROBU debacle, the AU ceded responsibility to the East African Community, under the principle of subsidiarity.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni became the chief negotiator and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa was appointed facilitator of talks between the government and the now exiled opposition. But sensing that Mkapa had little political backing from African presidents, Nkurunziza refused to give ground. The mediation, which barely got off the ground, has now comprehensively stalled.

Since 2016, the violence in Burundi has remained at a steady rate without threatening to spill over the country’s borders, allowing Nkurunziza to claim a return to normality. While some African leaders and officials are alive to the country’s fragility, others buy into the government’s view.

As a guarantor of Arusha, the AU should resist the erosion of the agreement’s key provisions embodied in the approved constitutional changes. Its half-hearted response to the referendum – January’s AU summit simply called for “a broad consensus of all stakeholders” — will not suffice in the face of a concerted effort to dismantle the very political settlement that brought peace to Burundi.

In a country scarred by ethnic violence, the risks posed by the constitutional changes are huge and the case for preventative action [...] overwhelming.

In a country scarred by ethnic violence, the risks posed by the constitutional changes are huge and the case for preventative action (a key tenet of the AU’s peace and security mandate) overwhelming.

With elections now just two years away, talks between government and opposition aimed at creating a conducive environment for a vote in 2020 are more vital than ever.

The opposition’s mistrust of the ruling CNDD-FDD has deepened to the point where some see violence as the only way of exerting pressure for change. To avoid future escalation, the AU must re-engage now.

The current chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, should use his good offices and the PSC should put Burundi back on its agenda. Greater pressure should be exerted on Bujumbura to open up the political space — including allowing exiled opposition activists to return without fear of harassment or prosecution — and to put an end to its divisive and inflammatory discourse. Without this, the alternative, sooner or later, will be violence.

Contributors

Project Director, Central Africa
richmoncrieff
Head of Africa Regional Advocacy
ElissaJobson