Burundi President, Pierre Nkurunziza

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If you are an American, do you bless George Washington every morning when you awake because he decided he wanted only two terms in office? One of the major issues in Africa is the tendency for presidents, like kings in the olden days, to rule for life (or until they are overthrown in a coup or rebellion). President Mugabe of Zimbabwe ruled from 1980 until 2017, President Museveni of Uganda from 1986 until possibly 2031, President Kagame of Rwanda from effectively 1994 to possibly 2034, President Joseph Kabila from 2001 until today by the trick of postponing already by 2 years the election of his replacement, and so on.

The current president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, was the leader of the political party CNDD-FDD (the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for Defense and Democracy), which was the main rebel group trying to overthrow the then Burundian government. Finally after twelve years of civil war (1993 to 2005), he was installed as president according to a detailed agreement called the Arusha Accords. This included a two five-year term limit on the presidency and a rotating Hutu/Tutsi president and a Tutsi/Hutu vice-president. In 2015 Nkurunziza finished his second term in office. He tried to amend the constitution to remove the two-term limit and failed by one vote. His CNDD-FDD party then declared that his first term in office did not count because he was elected by parliament and not the general population and therefore he could run again.

A police/youth confrontation in Bujumbura in 2015 in the violence that occurred after the announcement that President Nkuruziza would vie for a third term.

This lead to large demonstrations against this move for a third term, particularly in Bujumbura, with massive police/army response. This escalated after May 13, 2015 when there was an unsuccessful military coup while Nkurunziza was out of the country. Except for briefly stepping across the border into Tanzania to meet with its president, he has not left Burundi in the last two years. Estimated vary but at least 1000 people have been killed in the unrest and 420,000 or 4% of the population has fled to Tanzania, Rwanda, Congo, and even to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

The next scheduled election is in 2020, but the ground is being laid at this time. On Thursday, May 17, Burundi will hold a referendum to change the constitution so that President Nkurunziza can run for two more seven-year terms, ending therefore in 2034. I can predict with 100% certainty that these amendments will pass, probably with more than a 90% “yes” vote.

The Imbonerakure demonstrating their support for Nkurunziza. Red, green, and white are the colors of Burundi’s flag.

The CNDD-FDD party has a youth wing called Imbonerakure, meaning “those who see far”, which is organized throughout the country. Its members have been used to intimidate voters, accused of extorting money (“fines” or bribes), beatings, and even extrajudicial killings as they cooperate closely with the government and security forces. For example, one method of protest that those opposed to the constitutional changes was to fail to register to vote. To counteract this, Imbonerakure would demand that people show their registration cards or be fined or beaten. Anyone from another political party – and there were 17 opposition political parties who signed the Arusha Accords – who might be suspected of encouraging people to vote “no” were also beaten and sometimes killed. The Imbonerakure would also march down the street chanting “pro-yes” slogans and threats against those who would vote “no.” This intimidation and repression is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness. It is why I can so confidently predict that the referendum will pass the proposed constitutional changes.

Since independence in 1961 Burundi has had a history of political instability and strong-armed rule through the security forces. Since the current crisis began in 2015, Burundi’s economy has contracted so much so that it is now considered the poorest country in the world. The government has continually refused to negotiate with the opposition which now is based outside the country. Relations with Rwanda are at a low point as the Burundi government accuses Rwanda of supporting the opposition which Rwanda, naturally, denies. Most foreign aid, particularly that given to the government, has been withdrawn. The European Union, the United States, and much of the international community have withdrawn their support for the regime, demanding negotiation with the opposition which the government has continually refused. The Burundi franc can no longer be exchanged as an international currency. Dollar/euro accounts of all organizations and businesses have been closed as all business must go through the government controlled bank; this was done to stop capital flight from the country, but has made it extremely difficult to conduct international financial transactions.

Unfortunately at the moment I see no light at the end of the tunnel. The victims are the 11.5 million citizens of Burundi.

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To make tax deductible (US) or gift aid eligible (UK) donations through Global Giving,

For Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC) go to http://goto.gg/31755

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David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

Phone 254 (0)726 590 783
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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