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End of Transition in Burundi: The Home Stretch
End of Transition in Burundi: The Home Stretch
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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
Report 81 / Africa

End of Transition in Burundi: The Home Stretch

The considerable progress Burundi has made over the past year in consolidating its three-year transition risks ending in a dangerous political vacuum if strong commitments are not made immediately to the electoral process outlined in the 2000 Arusha agreement.

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Executive Summary

The considerable progress Burundi has been made over the past year in consolidating its three-year transition runs the risk of ending in a dangerous political vacuum if strong commitments are not made immediately to the electoral process outlined in the 2000 Arusha Agreement. Such a vacuum can only result in the discrediting and even the failure of the entire peace process and the withdrawal of the former CNDD-FDD rebel movement from the government, which it only joined in December 2003.

The international community needs to help break this political deadlock by providing experts to fine-tune the draft of the post-transition Constitution, by disbursing funds pledged at a recent donors' conference and especially by supporting the implementation of the global ceasefire agreement meant to go in tandem with free and fair elections.

But Burundi's government must also live up to its responsibilities and commitments by adopting the post-transitional Constitution as soon as possible. Lack of political will rather than a shortage of time is the real issue.

The Arusha Agreement sets 31 October 2004 as the deadline for the end of the transitional period, and tensions are growing in the lead-up to this new phase in the peace process. At the last regional summit on Burundi on 5 June 2004, the Transitional Government proposed rescheduling the elections to October 2005. Regional leaders rejected this ploy, insisting that conditions already agreed upon be respected.

Burundi has become much safer, and for the first time in more than a decade, the country could be headed towards a genuine end to the conflict. Since the signing on 16 November 2003 of the Global Ceasefire Agreement between the Transitional Government and the CNDD-FDD movement headed by Jean-Pierre Nkurunziza, both sides have demonstrated total respect for the ceasefire. Bujumbura Rurale is the only province where members of the PALIPETHUTU-FNL still clash with the FAB/FDD coalition.

The PALIPETHUTU-FNL, the sole remaining rebel group in the field, is no longer capable of derailing the process. It has been seriously weakened by the operations of forces under the new integrated high command of the Burundi army (FAB) and the FDD. This offensive and the acceleration of the peace process forced the FNL to declare publicly a unilateral truce on 21 April 2004 and seek contact with the international community. Nevertheless, the group still refuses to enter negotiations with the Transitional Government. At the 5 June 2004 summit, regional leaders imposed sanctions on the FNL, but these will not resolve the issue. Successful implementation of the ceasefire agreement appears to be the only way to push the FNL to the negotiating table.

An integrated military high command (FAB-FDD) responsible for carrying out the reform of the army has been working since January 2004 on a plan to integrate former rebels. The Joint Ceasefire Committee (CMC) has proposed an operational plan (POC) for disarmament and demobilisation.

Both sides have demonstrated willingness to implement part of the plan by separately disengaging and assembling their forces and respecting the ceasefire. But the process is running out of steam because of lack of commitment and funds to carry out the actual integration. Emphasis is on disarmament and demobilisation, whereas integration of former rebels into the national army remains a priority. The World Bank-backed disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) effort faces political issues it cannot resolve over use of donor funding in such programs. The Transitional Government and donors must cooperate to fund the army's return to barracks and quartering sites so that integration can finally begin.

On 1 June 2004, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Burundi became a UN Peacekeeping Mission, an indication that there is now no going back on the peace process. This new mission must support the implementation of the military process and harmonise it with the political process.

Political parties and politico-military movements failed to adopt the draft Constitution at a 12 April 2004 meeting called by President Domitien Ndayizeye, and entrenched interests are blocking negotiations. The UN, under the aegis of the Implementation Monitoring Commission (IMC), must assemble a team of national and international experts as soon as possible to work with local political actors and come up with a Constitution they can adopt by consensus. The international experts should be those who drew up the Arusha Agreement.

Respect for ethnic balance is one of the incontrovertible achievements of the Arusha Agreement, but this should not become a guarantee of the political status quo. By enshrining the concept of ethnic balance while encouraging political debate, Arusha makes it possible to avoid this eventuality.

The international community must renew its commitment to these political and military agreements by insisting on total respect for the framework they establish. The political calendar governing the end of the transition period must, therefore, be in step with that of army reform. This harmonisation of these two processes should be negotiated via a realistic road map that creates a politico-military environment conducive to successful elections.

Nairobi/Brussels, 5 July 2004

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