President Nkurunziza’s April 2015 decision to run for a third, unconstitutional term sparked a wave of opposition and violent repression. His subsequent re-election in July 2015 has turned unrest into a low-intensity conflict that shows little sign of resolution. In this context, the economy and public finance are under stress and living conditions for Burundians have deteriorated. Over 400,000 Burundians have fled the country, while political and ethnic polarisation are affecting the integrity of the army. Through field-based research in Burundi and neighbouring countries, and engagement with both government and foreign actors, Crisis Group aims to reduce the risk of civil war, mass atrocities and a regional proxy conflict. We advocate for a credible, internationally-mediated national dialogue and a return to inclusive constitutional rule.
On 17 May 2018, Burundians vote on constitutional amendments that would prolong the rule of President Pierre Nkurunziza, dismantle a carefully negotiated Hutu-Tutsi ethnic balance, and ultimately could lead to instability. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 – First Update early warning report, Crisis Group urges European policy makers to explore channels for pressuring the government, and African leaders to renew mediation attempts between the regime and opposition.
Yes win in constitutional referendum could allow President Nkurunziza to stay in power until 2034 and undermine ethnic power balance; violence also escalated with attack in north west leaving 26 civilians dead. In referendum on revised constitution 17 May, amid ongoing harassment and intimidation of No voters and those opposed to referendum, 73% voted Yes. Changes extend presidential terms from five to seven years and may allow Nkurunziza to seek two more terms from 2020. France and U.S. condemned climate of fear and repression. Campaigning officially began 1 May; electoral commission 8 May published revised draft constitution. CNARED opposition coalition in exile reiterated call for boycott. Govt criminalised calls for abstention, punishable by up to three years in prison. Catholic Church 3 May said timing of referendum was not right as some Burundians suppress free speech and people “do not dare say what they think”. Govt 4 May suspended BBC and Voice of America for six months for breaching media laws and warned Radio France Internationale and local radio station to verify sources more rigorously; govt 23 May said it was ready to lift suspensions. Unidentified assailants 12 May killed 26 people in Cibitoke (north west) seemingly targeting families of police officers; govt said attackers were “terrorists coming from and returning to” DR Congo. Vote took place 17 May largely peacefully, but opposition coalition Amizero y’Abarundi denounced security forces forcing some people to polling stations, ruling party’s youth wing Imbonerakure for violating secrecy of votes, and polling station officials for chasing opposition monitors from polling stations. Electoral commission 21 May announced victory for Yes camp. Amizero y’Abarundi 31 May petitioned Constitutional Court to invalidate results.
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.
All is in place for a violent confrontation in Burundi. The failed coup on 13 May has intensified opposition to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s push for a third term in office. After ten years of peace, Burundi is in danger of reopening the fault lines that once led the country into civil war.
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.
To avoid a revival of past ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi, Burundi needs to find the right balance between land restitution and national reconciliation.
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.
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.
Originally published in The East African
Crisis Group’s first update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on Burundi’s dangerous referendum, militant Buddhists and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the region, and the situation in Yemen. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Burundi needs international peacekeeping missions to keep its troops paid and happy. Peacekeeping missions need Burundian troops. But for how long?
Originally published in African Arguments
Le 5 avril dernier, l’International Crisis Group sortait un rapport sur les tensions et dissensions qui s’observent au sein de la Force de Défense Nationale (FDN) depuis le début de la crise née de la volonté de Pierre Nkurunziza de se représenter pour un troisième mandat en avril 2015. Le rapport fait le contour des problèmes qui minent l’institution militaire. Thierry Vircoulon, un des auteurs du rapport, a répondu aux questions de Yaga.
Originally published in Yaga Burundi
Africa is experiencing the highest number of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. As the new chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, takes office, International Crisis Group suggests how he can strengthen the organisation’s response to threats to continental peace and security.