Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk
Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 120 / Africa

Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk

Since the new, democratically elected government came to power in September 2005, the first since 1993, there has been marked deterioration in Burundi’s political climate. Led by the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), the government has arrested critics, moved to muzzle the press, committed human rights abuses and tightened its control over the economy.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

Since the new, democratically elected government came to power in September 2005, the first since 1993, there has been marked deterioration in Burundi’s political climate. Led by the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), the government has arrested critics, moved to muzzle the press, committed human rights abuses and tightened its control over the economy. Unless it reverses this authoritarian course, it risks triggering violent unrest and losing the gains of the peace process. The international community needs to monitor the government’s performance, encouraging it to adopt a more inclusive approach and remain engaged even after UN troops depart in December 2006.

The arrest of prominent opposition politicians in July 2006, accompanied by questionable claims that a coup was being planned, has been the most disturbing development. Some of those arrested were tortured into signing confessions. But this was only one, albeit high-profile, example of the deterioration in human rights and political pluralism. Soon after its inauguration, the government launched military operations against the last remaining rebel group, the Palipehutu-FNL, in the course of which it imprisoned, tortured and even executed many suspected combatants as well as civilians accused of colluding with the rebels, often with the National Intelligence Service (SNR) behind the abuses.

The ruling party is also actively interfering in public procurement, fuelling suspicions that it is using state offices to fill its coffers. Sweeping personnel changes in lucrative state companies have caused resentment amongst businessmen, who may be tempted to respond by financing political dissidents. The European Union and the World Bank have both expressed concern at increasing government corruption, and the latter has suspended part of its budgetary aid pending an audit.

The authoritarian drift has been exacerbated by the weakness of institutions meant to provide a check on the executive. Political opposition is divided, and the CNDD-FDD controls both parliament and the courts. It has clamped down on critics in the press and civil society. Although the government has recently attempted to establish a dialogue with journalists and civil society, its prospects of reducing tensions are poor as long as several NGO leaders remain in custody on tenuous grounds.

There are few signs of violent opposition as yet. Integration of the security forces has weakened the former Tutsi military establishment, which is reluctant to act for fear of a backlash against its ethnic community. However, the government’s recent actions have damaged the country’s political fabric and could foster unrest in the near future. Its behaviour could also hamper implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed with the FNL rebels on 7 September 2006.

The growing authoritarianism is disturbing after such a promising beginning to the peace process. The government came to power with considerable domestic and international goodwill, which it will lose if it does not take steps to promote accountable, inclusive and democratic governance. The primary responsibility is the government’s, but the international community, particularly donors and the UN’s new Peacebuilding Commission, have important support roles to play in this respect.

Nairobi/Brussels, 30 November 2006

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.