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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Central Africa > Burundi > Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term

Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term

Africa Report N°235 20 May 2016

A suspect identified by a former rebel as being involved in the burial of bodies at a mass grave is detained by police officers at the scene of the grave in Mutakura, north of Burundi's capital Bujumbura, 29 February 2016. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana


The full report is also available in: Français

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

One year after President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term sparked the crisis, the situation remains critical. The radicalisation of the regime, which had been steadily increasing since the second post-conflict elections in 2010 and intensified by tensions over the third term in 2015, has seen the rise of the most hard-line leaders of the ruling party. These figures are determined to do away with the institutional system established by the Arusha accord – an agreement between Hutu and Tutsi elites in 2000 which put in place an ethnic quota system for state institutions, including the army, and established a two-term presidential limit. This political strategy to dismantle the accord and the return of violent rhetoric and tactics reminiscent of the civil war, have generated great fear within Burundian society – which, although deeply alarmed, has not yet given in to politicians’ tactics of inciting ethnic hatred. With the government and opposition invited to meet in Tanzania on 21 May, it is imperative that the guarantors of the Arusha accord call on them to engage in a meaningful dialogue on the future of the peace agreement and avoid a repeat of the country’s tragic past.

Violence, fear, socio-economic decline and deepening social fractures have characterised the beginning of the president’s third term. Following protests in April 2015 and Nkurunziza’s re-election in July, confrontation has taken the form of urban guerrilla warfare which, beyond the targeted assassinations, torture and disappearances, has had an insidious and devastating impact. By using ethnically-charged rhetoric and demonstrating an obvious desire to bring the democratic consensus of the Arusha accord to an end, the regime has ruptured its relations with part of the population. Some 250,000 Burundians have fled, including a significant portion of the political and economic establishment as well as civil society activists. The flight has drained Burundi of its most dynamic citizens and exposed divisions between the regime on one hand, and the army, the capital and the Tutsi community on the other. Trade between Bujumbura and the countryside has also been disrupted and, according to recent estimates, 10 per cent of the population (1.1 million people) are in need of humanitarian assistance of some kind.

The paradox at the heart of this confrontation is that while Burundi has democratised, the ruling party, the Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), has not. An institutionalised ethnic power-sharing system is completely divorced from a radicalised ethnically-homogenous party reverting to its historical roots (rebel leaders of the civil war era). As the opposition, now forced into exile, seems unable to overcome its own longstanding ethnic cleavages, the regime’s current strategy of repression (alleging a Tutsi conspiracy, breaking up the security services and creating units loyal to the regime) has revived fears of genocidal violence within the Tutsi community. There are no signs at present that the population is ready to be mobilised for violence on ethnic grounds. But the simmering social and humanitarian crisis, part of the population’s physical, political and economic insecurity, and fear itself, have created the perfect conditions for the situation’s further deterioration and ethnic polarisation.

While many Burundians and the international community believed the ethnic problem had been solved with the Arusha accord, it has returned to the fore with President Nkurunziza’s third term. To reverse this trend, a debate should be organised on the necessary amendments to the peace agreement. The regime is presently staging sham debates through a “national dialogue” which remains completely under its control. Ideally, a debate on the Arusha accord would take place in Burundi. This, however, would require the government to lift current restrictions on civil liberties (freedom of expression, press and assembly, etc.) and allow the opposition to return from exile.

Before these conditions are met and in order to overcome the current impasse, a discussion between the opposition and the government on the future of the Arusha accord should take place outside of the country under the auspices of the guarantors of the peace agreement. The meeting called by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa on 21 May should be the first step in the dialogue on the future of the Arusha accord. In parallel, international actors, the UN and the African Union (AU) in particular, should take measures to prevent the crisis from descending into ethnic conflict and a humanitarian emergency, and prepare for an immediate intervention to prevent large-scale violence.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To reduce tensions, restart the dialogue and convince the government and the opposition to participate

To the government:

1.  Engage in constructive dialogue with the opposition, allow the media and civil society to work independently and free from fear, and revise its violent approach to political dissent.

To the opposition:

2.  Renounce violence and, for the unarmed opposition in exile, engage in a constructive dialogue with the government and resolve internal disagreements in order to present a common front and clear positions.

To the UN, African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC) and European Union (EU):

3.  Formalise a single international mediation structure in order to speak with one voice.

To the guarantors of the Arusha accord (in particular Tanzania and South Africa):

4.  Form a working group comprising the National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Accord and the Rule of Law (Conseil national pour le respect de l’accord d’Arusha pour la paix et la réconciliation au Burundi et de l’Etat de droit, CNARED), the National Forces of Liberation (Forces nationales de libération, FNL), and the CNDD-FDD tasked with discussing the necessary amendments to be made to the Arusha peace agreement.

To the AU and the EU:

5.  Agree on how to implement the EU decision to change the financing arrangements for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by bypassing the government and disbursing funds directly to the soldiers.

6.  The AU and its partners should also look for another troop contributing country to eventually replace Burundian soldiers within AMISOM in order to prevent Burundian authorities from using participation in the mission as diplomatic leverage.

To prevent a descent into ethnic conflict and be ready to intervene in case of mass violence

To donors who suspended part of their financial aid (the EU, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Switzerland):

7.  Contribute financially to track hate speech by the authorities and the opposition in order to fight attempts at ethnic polarisation. Burundian NGOs, with the assistance of some donors, have already begun doing this, but they require further assistance, specifically to cover speeches by local authorities in the provinces. Financial assistance for the documentation of human rights abuses should also be sustained and increased.

To the UN, the AU, the EU and bilateral partners:

8.  The AU should put in place and the EU and the U.S. should expand sanctions regimes to include those propagating hate speech.

9.  Agree to deploy immediately several hundred human rights observers and armed international police.

10.  Take the necessary measures so that a rapid deployment force can be dispatched in case of emergency, which could include troops from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

To Burundian and international NGOs involved in local conflict resolution before the current crisis with local mediation structures in place:

11.  Reorient the work of these structures toward the documentation of human rights abuses and hate speech in Bujumbura and in the provinces.

To mitigate the impact of the economic and social crisis on the population

To donors who suspended part of their financial aid (the EU, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Switzerland):

12.  Verify the political neutrality and technical reliability of non-governmental actors in the context of changing the terms of aid provision. This requires a rigorous political and operational assessment of these actors. For some of them, a partnership with international NGOs and a strengthening of their financial and managerial capacities will be essential.

13.  Fund monitoring mechanisms to evaluate the status of food security and sanitation, and conduct budgetary studies to identify the breaking point of key health and agricultural sectors in order to calibrate the financial support they need. Donors should ensure financing changes to their programs do not result in the interruption of all ongoing funding.

14.  Create a committee to monitor the Burundian economy, specifically in the health and agriculture sectors and access to basic services.

15.  Make available funds for the humanitarian response plan, which remains under-funded.

Nairobi/Brussels, 20 May 2016

 
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