In the years right after apartheid fell, South Africa was a leader in continental diplomacy, brokering peace accords and bolstering multilateral institutions. Its role subsequently diminished, but today it is well placed to make a positive difference in several trouble spots.
Electoral Commission (CENI) moved ahead with preparations of May general elections despite COVID-19 pandemic, and authorities and ruling party’s youth wing continued to harass opposition supporters. CENI 10 March approved six candidates for May presidential election including ruling party CNDD-FDD candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye and main opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) candidate Agathon Rwasa. CENI rejected four candidacies including opposition Kira Burundi coalition candidate and former President Domitien Ndayizeye; Kira Burundi 12 March contested CENI’s decision before Constitutional Court, which reinstated Ndayizeye 19 March. Govt 20 March ruled out postponing May elections on account of COVID-19. UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 9 March highlighted deteriorating political, security and economic situation in briefing to UN Human Rights Council, expressing concern over impunity of crimes against opposition supporters notably by Imbonerakure, youth wing of CNDD-FDD. Suspected members of Imbonerakure 16 March killed local CNL leader in Migera locality, Bujumbura Rural province; 28 March attacked household of CNL supporter in Ruyigi province. Police reportedly arrested two CNL members in Bubanza and Mwaro provinces 23 March and two others in Muyinga province 29 March. Military police 4-5 March arrested 36 returning Burundian soldiers from African Union Mission in Somalia on charges of rape and theft. Defence and security officials 11 March met with counterparts from DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda in Goma, DRC, to discuss stabilisation efforts in eastern DRC. In attempt to stop spread of COVID-19, govt 15 March closed border with Rwanda until further notice and 21 March suspended all flights in and out of economic capital Bujumbura international airport.
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.
The current political crisis has reopened the wounds of Burundi’s past. Hardliners now dominant in the government brutally stifle dissent, fuel ethnic hatred, and undermine the Arusha accord that framed Burundi’s peace for the past decade. The international community should push toward real dialogue, and prepare to intervene if violence escalates.
[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.
C’est toujours la même rhétorique que le régime utilise comme réponse quand il est mis en cause à Genève, New York ou Addis-Abeba
Le régime burundais est en grande difficulté. Et le problème des gouvernements qui arrivent à bout d’arguments, c’est que ça mène à de plus en plus de violence.
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.
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.