On 20 May, Burundians will elect a new president, future members of parliament and municipal councillors, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Q&A, Crisis Group looks at the various scenarios for the polls and the challenges that will face whoever prevails.
Authorities continued to repress political opponents, and ruling party elected new head. Security forces and ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 3-22 Jan arrested over a dozen members of opposition parties National Congress for Freedom (CNL) and FRODEBU in several provinces. In Rumonge province, security forces 14-16 Jan killed two former soldiers suspected of supporting rebel groups. Residents in several provinces 20 Dec-23 Jan discovered at least 13 bodies, including some with signs of torture. Truth and Reconciliation Commission – provided for in 2000 Arusha peace accords and tasked with investigating ethnic violence in country’s recent past – 7 Jan presented to parliament intermediary report focused on 1972 mass killings. Civil society platform FORSC 15 Jan criticised it as biased, saying truth commission relied on selected testimonies, did not investigate archives of local administrations, and solely focused on violence against Hutu population, failing to address violence against Tutsis. Ruling party CNDD-FDD 24 Jan elected former Senate President Révérien Ndikuriyo as new party sec gen, replacing President Ndayishimiye; NGO Burundi Human Rights Initiative immediately expressed concerns that Ndikuriyo’s election “seems to consolidate the dominance of hardliners since the 2020 elections” and “does not bode well for human rights”. Meanwhile, govt continued to rebuild relations with foreign partners. EU delegation to Burundi, along with Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands 4 Jan expressed wish for “complete and gradual” normalisation of relations; statement also welcomed “the gestures made especially on the occasion of the end-of-year celebrations”, referring to Ndayishimiye’s late Dec pardoning of four independent media outlet Iwacu journalists, sentenced to two and a half years in prison in Jan 2020 on charges of “threatening state security”.
As May elections approach, Burundi’s ruling party says it has stopped demanding payments from citizens to finance the polls. But the confiscatory practice persists. Bujumbura should move decisively to halt it as a prelude to wider-ranging improvement of governance in the country.
Three Great Lakes states – Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda – are trading charges of subversion, each accusing another of sponsoring rebels based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Outside powers should help the Congolese president resolve these tensions, lest a lethal multi-sided melee ensue.
Talks about ending Burundi’s crisis – sparked by the president’s decision to seek a third term – have fizzled out. With elections nearing in 2020, tensions could flare. Strong regional pressure is needed to begin opening up the country’s political space before the balloting.
Au Burundi, le déclin de l’économie exacerbe le risque de violence. L’Union européenne et ses Etats membres, qui ont suspendu leur aide directe au gouvernement, doivent redoubler d’efforts pour que leur soutien bénéficie à la population.
Two years on, the Burundi crisis shows little sign of resolution. Political and ethnic polarisation are now tearing apart the integrity of the army, long seen as the primary achievement of the Arusha peace agreement in 2000 which brought an end to protracted civil conflict.
To reverse Burundi’s slide toward a devastating social and humanitarian emergency – as ethnically-charged rhetoric worsens and refugees flee to neighbouring countries – the African Union needs to overcome its internal divisions, fix a so far incoherent response and facilitate a negotiated settlement between the government and the opposition.
We should not expect spectacular reversals. Ndayishimiye is himself a product of the CNDD-FDD system and… must ensure the loyalty of the executives who were not necessarily in favour of his designation.
This could be a first sign that [Ndayishimiye] will be able to take decisions that will not blindly follow in his predecessor's steps.
[In Burundi] the government is pushing back on international pressure, trying to convince international actors that everything is alright. Meanwhile, its population is suffering in silence.
Mobile phones and social media maintain a link between many of Burundi’s constituent parts that appear steadily more remote and disconnected: the diaspora and the refugee camps, capital city and rural areas, Burundi and the rest of the world.
The only thing that's important now, the only card to play at the moment, is to try and convince the neighbouring countries to put pressure on Burundi [to end the escalating violence].
Le discours de Bujumbura est un piège qui se referme sur lui.
President Tshisekedi’s plans for joint operations with DR Congo’s belligerent eastern neighbours against its rebels risks regional proxy warfare. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage diplomatic efforts in the region and Tshisekedi to shelve his plan for the joint operations.
African heads of state should press Burundi to open the political space, in particular letting opposition politicians campaign freely and safely and allowing in international observers, in order to prevent a reprise of past violence or worse.
Originally published in The East African
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.