Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 32 n° 312

Burundi president lights slow fuse to ethnic war

Posted by fidest press agency su mercoledì, 4 novembre 2015

Bujumburaby GIS Guest Expert. President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term has plunged Burundi into chaos, reversing a decade of progress towards ethnic reconciliation and economic growth. While the present conflict is political in origin, triggered by the president’s ambitions, the climate of violence and repression it has fostered may revive ethnic tensions that could potentially spark a conflict of regional dimensions. In a continent where entrenched presidents-for-life are often the main obstacle to building democracies, Burundi’s crisis will have broad reverberations in African politics. It could be an inspiration or a warning for these ageing leaders, depending on the outcome.
Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda share a similar ethnic composition, with a Hutu majority (about 85 per cent of the population) and a Tutsi minority (about 14 per cent). Before independence, both countries were colonised under a divide and rule strategy that favoured the Tutsi minority over the majority Hutus. After independence, this colonial legacy made ethnicity central to politics, leading to civil war and humanitarian tragedies in both countries.Unlike in Rwanda, where Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front chose to banish ethnicity from the public sphere after the 1994 genocide, in Burundi the reconciliation process was based on its explicit recognition. The 2005 constitution introduced a system of quotas under the principle of majority rule and minority inclusion. The ethnic integration that this system imposed significantly reduced tensions between Hutus and Tutsis.Burundi’s economy, one of the least developed in the world, also benefited from the peace dividend. Economic growth has averaged 4 per cent since 2010, according to data from the African Development Bank. While the country’s poverty rate is still estimated at 66.9 per cent, development indicators improved thanks to the relative political stability and bigger inflows of foreign aid.This positive trajectory was interrupted in April when President Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term, in defiance of the constitution and the Arusha accords of August 2000 that helped end the civil war. In the next three months, at least 100 people died and as many as 200,000 fled the country as protests shook Bujumbura, the capital, and a coup attempt was made against the president.This positive trajectory was interrupted in April when President Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term, in defiance of the constitution and the Arusha accords of August 2000 that helped end the civil war. Following several delays and failed attempts at international mediation, Mr Nkurunziza won re-election on July 21, 2015 with 69 per cent of the vote. Turnout was low, after opposition parties called for a boycott. In the elections’ aftermath, the government continued to crack down on protesters and the media. Even so, the violence has continued, including a rocket attack on August 2 that killed Mr Nkurunziza’s top security aide, General Adolphe Nshimirimana, and the killings of several leading opposition politicians.
Burundi was far from being a fully fledged democracy even before the recent troubles. The country was scored at 5, or ‘partly free,’ in a 2014 survey of civil and political rights by Freedom House. This year, that status declined to ‘not free,’ as the government cracked down on the opposition and muzzled critics.The current crisis in Burundi appears to be driven by political, rather than ethnic divisions. The country is split between those who support President Nkurunziza’s third term and those who don’t. The cleavage crosses ethnic lines, with significant opposition coming from Mr Nkurunziza’s fellow Hutus. Both sides acknowledge the centrality of the constitutional issue, especially because the two-term limit and other curbs on the ruling majority’s power were crucial to the compromise that ended the civil war.The president’s loyalists claim that since he was appointed by parliament to his first five-year term, it should not count against the two-term limit for elected presidents. Burundi’s seven-member constitutional court upheld this interpretation in a controversial decision on May 5.The decision was made under duress, according to the court’s vice president, Sylvere Nimpagaritse, who fled to Rwanda on the eve of the ruling. He claimed that senior government officials had threatened some judges with death if they did not go along. Whatever the truth, the verdict did not give Mr Nkurunziza the domestic or international legitimacy he needed to rule the country. (Photo: Bujumbura)


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