President Evariste Ndayishimiye enjoys good relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo next door. But following accusations that Rwanda is harbouring anti-Burundi insurgents and coup plotters, relations with that neighbour deteriorated severely over the course of 2023. At home, oppressive policies aimed at obstructing opposition continue while the ruling party’s supporters, especially its Imbonerakure youth wing, enjoy near impunity for their abuses. Crisis Group keeps an eye on Burundi’s role in the region’s fraught diplomacy and monitors its internal situation through the monthly conflict tracker CrisisWatch.

CrisisWatch Burundi

Unchanged Situation

Main opposition party faced disarray amid contention over leadership and govt-instigated fragmentation; reports emerged of ruling party youth wing receiving further military training.

Govt-sponsored efforts ousted leader of main opposition party. Opposition fell into disarray as faction of National Congress for Freedom (CNL) removed party head Agathon Rwasa, with govt recognising parallel leadership. Interior Minister Martin Niteretse denied Rwasa permission for 2 March extraordinary congress, instead allowing ten govt-backed CNL dissidents to convene one in Ngozi province 10 March while Rwasa was not in country. Delegates chose Nestor Girukwishaka, senior executive allegedly close to ruling party, as new CNL head, while Niteretse 18 March officially recognised him as party’s President. Police, intelligence services and ruling-party youth wing Imbonerakure barred pro-Rwasa MPs from attending meeting, with human rights group Ligue Iteka reporting 42 CNL members arrested during day. CNL described congress as “masquerade” while Rwasa said govt had worked with “political mercenaries” from party as ploy to sideline him ahead of 2025 legislative elections; govt interference left CNL adrift with two separate leaderships under Girukwishaka and Rwasa. 

Imbonerakure continued to bolster force with alleged paramilitary training. Locals 6 March reported Imbonerakure members, predominantly from western provinces, undertook military-style training in Cibitoke province, with reports of gunshots and armed parades. Defence ministry said exercises were military training for soldiers but local sources suggested events were paramilitary drills for ruling party youth wing. 

In another important development. Police 17 March discovered decapitated body in Bukinanyana commune in Cibitoke province and arrested four Imbonerakure members as suspects. 

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Onesphore Sematumba

Analyst, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi
Onesphore Sematumba

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