Elections in Burundi: Moment of Truth
Elections in Burundi: Moment of Truth
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza holds a news conference in Brussels, October 2009. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Report / Africa 2 minutes

Elections in Burundi: Moment of Truth

The ever-decreasing likelihood of a free and fair presidential election is in growing conflict with a popular desire for change in Burundi. To safeguard the Arusha principles agreed in 2000 to end Burundi’s civil war, the opposition and President Nkurunziza in particular must return to the path of democracy and dialogue.

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Executive Summary

The elections scheduled to take place between the end of May and August 2015 will be decisive for Burundi. The future of the present rulers (President Pierre Nkurunziza considers running for a third term) and, more importantly, the upholding of the 2000 Arusha agreement as the foundation for peace, are at stake. Popular protests and the precedent set by the fall of Burkina Faso’s president suggest street confrontations will take place if President Nkurunziza decides to impose his candidacy. The return to violence would not only end the peace progressively restored since the Arusha agreement, it would also have destabilising consequences in the region and mark a failure in peacebuilding. To avoid this scenario, Burundi’s partners, who have already expressed their concerns, should increase their involvement in the electoral process and prepare a gradual response depending on how inclusive the process will be.

With the upcoming congress of the ruling party, which is supposed to decide on its presidential candidate, and the 26 May legislative and local elections only a few weeks away, tension is rising and prospects for free and fair polls are slimmer by the day. While preparatory meetings held in 2013 and the return of opposition leaders to the country raised hopes of an electoral process based on dialogue between the regime and the opposition, there are increasing signs of a looming electoral crisis. The partisan use of state institutions, exactions committed by youth militia (the Imbonerakure), the lack of confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), strategies by the regime to reduce the inclusivity of the electoral process and the president’s will to run again exacerbate tensions. The opposition wants revenge after its defeat in the 2010 polls, but it remains uncertain if its leaders will be allowed to contest the elections.

The prospect of a third term for President Nkurunziza calls into question the preservation of peace in Burundi. The president is risking it all by trying to force his name on the ballot, against the Catholic Church, civil society, a fraction of his own party and most external partners. The opposition’s survival is at stake and the security forces are unsure how to react in case of violent crisis. The situation is much more serious than the failed 2010 elections: what lies behind this new electoral cycle is the upholding of the Arusha agreement as the foundation of Burundi’s regime.

International actors are aware of the stakes and risks associated with the upcoming electoral cycle, and some neighbouring countries are closely monitoring the situation. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Tanzanian president, Belgian ministers and the UN Security Council recently came to Bujumbura; the Burundian president and his Rwandese counterpart met in Rwanda and a UN electoral mission (MENUB) was sent in early 2015. As some Burundians flee to Rwanda, the country’s relapse into violence would be a pitifull outcome for the guarantors of the Arusha agreement and could fuel regional crisis. The reaction of Burundi’s partners – especially the guarantors of the Arusha agreement – is not commensurate with the gravity of the situation. They must urgently mobilise sufficient resources and will have to get more involved to prevent rising tensions between supporters of the president and of the opposition and to avoid confrontation in the streets.

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