Wednesday, 26 April 2017

BURUNDI: Two years of Political Turmoil

Burundi has descended into crisis in April 2015, following the announcement on Nkurunziza's controversial bid for third term. Two years after, the regime shows no signs of easing up on a crackdown that has forced hundred of thousands to flee.

The UN estimates that at least 500 people have been killed and more than 500.000 people have been forced to flee the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term in April 2015. Nkurinziza's re-election violated the two term limit set by the constitution and a 2006 peace deal that ended years of civil war.

In meantime, his ruling CNND-FDD party has unleashed its feared youth wing known as the ''Imbronerakure'' ( a word derived from local language Kirundi, meaning those who see from afar), spreading around the country, raping, arresting, harassing the opposition with total impunity. 

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underlines the responsibility of the Burundian authorities to protect the civilian population, regardless of political affiliation, and to ensure that the widespread impunity for these heinous acts is brought to an immediate end. But Nkurunziza has rejected the UN and the African Union calls. In fact, he has grown more radicalized, taking advantage of the growing divisions on the UNSC, as well as the paralysis of the African Union and internal divisions and inflated egos within the opposition to stall negotiations.

Two years after Burundi's fraught presidential election, violence has only deepened in the country. That presidential vote took place in an environment tainted by government crackdowns and fear, and there has been an alarming upsurge in arrests, detentions and killings, with bodies found almost daily in the streets of Bujumbura, the capital. 

Since then, targeted killings of key opposition figures have multiplied. Mr Zedi Feruzi, who headed the opposition Union for Peace Development Party and was an outspoken critic of Nkurunziza's third term, was killed in Bukumbura. The Party' spokesman, Patrice Gahungu, was shot dead on his way home in Bujumbura. The body of Charlotte Umugwaneza, an activist for the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy  (MSD), was found in the Gikoma River. Human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, survived assassination attempt. 

Gen, Adolphe Nshimirimana, Nkurunziza's long-time ally and deputy, was killed, allegedly by other soldiers. Only two weeks later, the former Chief of staff of the army, Col. Jean Bikomagu, a Tutsi who led the government forces, known as the Armed Forces of Burundi (FAB), during the civil war, was executed in front of his house. The army's chief of staff and another former FAB leader, Gen, Prime Niyongabo, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Bujumbura. 

Opposition figures, however, are not the only victims. Attacks on journalists have grown in the past few months. Now, as results, the majority of the opposition is outside of the country and journalists are fleeing, leaving an information vacuum that social media has tried to fill. 

In a political scene dominated by oppression, the military has also seen its share of desertions, targeted killings and rumors of rebellions. Two high-ranked officers-the deputy commander of an elite infant unit, Maj Emmanuel Ndayikeza and Lt. Col. Edouard Nshimirimana-were reported missing, along with material, including 100 army radios, strengthening rumors of rebellion. 

As violence has spiked in Burundi, international actors and the government's aid lifelines-the European Union, the African Union and the United States-have continued to push for consultations and dialogue. Simultaneously, they have issued sanctions but Nkurunziza stands strong.

The EU first issued targeted sanctions against four individuals: three connected to the government and one who participated on the failed coup, making sure not to only target Nkurinziza's camp. Aid suspension and broader economic sanctions followed when EU-brokered dialogue failed to resolve the crisis. 

It is true that sanctions have severe effects on an already struggling population, since the EU is one of the main funder of Burundi's budget. But sanctions on targeted individuals are not strong enough to bend Nkurunziza's regime, which now relies more on Russia and China, countries which do not wish to interfere in the country's political turmoil. 

The AU has also decided to increase the number of human rights observers in Burundi. Most consequentially, the AU's Peace and  Security Council communiqué raised the possibility of deploying the EASF to prevent further violence. At the end, the AU backtracked after Nkurunziza's threats. Now the AU's Peace and Security Council should revisit the decision of deploying the EASF to end the political turmoil.

For one, it would be the first deployment of one of the five regional African Standby Forces (ASF), and as such, would be an important test for the AU's African Peace and Security Architecture. The AU currently is undertaking its first filed exercise on a continental level, known as AMANI Africa, to test the operational readiness of the ASF, with more than 5,000 troops in South Africa. 

An EASF deployment would be a complete example of the AU's normative shift from non-intervention to a doctrine of non-indifference, meaning that the AU has the responsibility to protect a state's population from human rights violations. 

In a region that faces several elections with president keen to stay in power in the coming years, the fate of Burundi serves as an important test. International pressure to solve the ongoing crisis is therefore crucial to avoid similar in neighboring countries. Yet it will be an uphill battle as many of Burundi's leaders appear willing to risk everything to maintain the status quo.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Writer

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