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Burundi: Rising Threats to Democracy, Peace

AfricaFocus Bulletin
February 17, 2014 (140217)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The UN Security Council voted unanimously last week to renew the mandate for the UN peacebuilding mission in Burundi until the end of the year, despite the position of the country's ruling party that the mission is no longer needed. The decision was phrased in diplomatic language. But it was a clear signal that the international body shares the concerns of Burundi civil society and political opposition voices about rising authoritarianism and political mistrust, as the ruling party attempts to consolidate its position before elections in 2015.

Since the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000, the result of mediation headed first by Julius Nyerere and then by Nelson Mandela, Burundi has enjoyed relative stability compared to earlier periods. But the process of peacebuilding has been far from smooth, marked by political strife and episodic violence, most recently by youth groups associated with political parties. The last elections in 2010 were boycotted by major opposition parties ( Over the past year, despite the return of some opposition figures from exile, political space has been further restricted by ruling party efforts to alter the constitution to secure a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a short report on the UN Security Council decision to renew the mandate of the UN mission in Burundi, a press release from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and a background blog article on "The 2015 elections in Burundi: towards authoritarianism or democratic consolidation?"

Thanks to Jean Claude Nkundwa for providing leads to most of these sources on his Facebook page. See his own short commentary from October 2013 at

Other relevant sources include:

"Burundi at 50: back to a one-party state?" by J. B. Falisse
Democracy in Africa, 25 October 2012

"Le pouvoir burundais isolé dans son project de révision constitutionelle," RFI, Dec. 9, 2013

"Alarm over Burundi Constitutional Changes," IRIN, Dec. 22, 2013

Summary background on UN Security Council and Burundi, including links to recent UN documents
January 31, 2014

UN Report on Security Council session on Burundi, January 28, 2014

More extensive background is available in reports from the International Crisis Group at / direct URL to Burundi page:

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Security Council extends UN mission in Burundi until December 2014

United Nations News

13 February 2014 - The Security Council today renewed until the end of the year the United Nations mission helping Burundi recover from decades of ethnic war, despite the Central African country's request to end it earlier, as it moves towards crucial elections amid political violence and intra-party tensions.

In a unanimous resolution the 15-member body welcomed the continued progress that Burundi, a centrepiece of UN peacebuilding efforts to ensure that countries once ravaged by war do not relapse into bloodshed, has made towards stability, but it endorsed SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon's recommendation not to wrap up the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB) by mid-2014 as the Government requested.

Instead, it extended the mission until 31 December to continue its peacebuilding work in a small country where hundreds of thousands of people have perished in largely inter-ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis that erupted even before it gained independence from Belgium in 1962.

The Council did however note the Government's request for a UN electoral observer mission before, during and after the 2015 elections in Burundi and requested the Secretary-General "to establish such a mission to follow and report on the electoral process in Burundi immediately at the end of BNUB's mandate."

BNUB was set up in 2006 following a ceasefire between the Government and the last remaining rebel force to support peace consolidation, democratic governance, disarmament and reform of the security sector. It replaced the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), a peacekeeping mission which at its peak had nearly 6,000 military personnel.

Now its replacement by the regular UN country team, a collection of UN agencies concerned principally with development and humanitarian issues that exists in most nations around the world, as requested by the Government, will not occur until 1 January, 2015.

Burundi is often cited as a success story in UN efforts to consolidate peace in countries that have been ravaged by conflict and was the first, along with Sierra Leone, to be put on the agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) when it was set up in 2006, to prevent post-conflict nations from relapsing into bloodshed.

But in his latest report to the Council, Mr. Ban stressed that President Pierre Nkurunziza's request that BNUB be drawn down within six months as of 15 February, so that Burundi can take fuller ownership of its political process, "poses a difficult dilemma, given the continuing need for a United Nations political presence whose functions cannot be entirely covered by the United Nations country team."

Recommending a full year's extension, he noted Burundi's "substantial progress, overcoming formidable challenges since the end of the civil war," but warned that such gains are far from irreversible as the country prepares for presidential elections in 2015 - "a litmus test" for long-term stability.

A UN strategic assessment conducted from September to December found that the political scene remains deeply polarized, with the Government using its dominance in Parliament to enact laws infringing on political and civil rights, contributing to a shrinking of political space, while the opposition threatens to take steps to confront the Government.

In its resolution today the Council asked Mr. Ban to prepare BNUB's transition and the transfer of appropriate responsibilities to the country team by 31 December, and urged it and its component agencies to scale up their activities and programming during the transition.

It called on the Government to foster inclusive elections in 2015 by improving dialogue between all national actors and ensuring space for all political parties, including from the extraparliamentary opposition, safeguard human rights, and prevent abuses, particularly reported extrajudicial killings, mistreatment of detainees and torture, restrictions on civil liberties, and harassment, intimidation and violence committed by youth groups.

The Government was also urged to ensure freedom of press, expression, association and assembly in the run up to the elections, and fight impunity by ensuring impartial investigations and reinforcing the protection of victims, witnesses and their families.

Burundi: UPRONA leaves the government, Democracy in danger

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

7 February 2014 / direct URL:

FIDH and ITEKA (Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l'Homme) are concerned about the dangerous political and security climate in Burundi and the increased restrictions placed on the democratic space in the country.

One year away from general elections, in order to ensure the maintenance of a transparent, credible and secure process, our organizations call on the Burundian authorities to fulfill their obligation to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"The political and institutional crisis in our country is partly a result of the hardening positions of the Burundian political parties. As we approach the general elections of 2015, the increased tensions between the various political groups, in addition to increasingly important security challenges and increased restrictions on fundamental freedoms, are not likely to create the conditions for a credible and secure electoral process. The politicians in power must choose the path of conciliation and transparent and inclusive dialogue to prevent our country from plunging back into the darkness of our past," said Joseph Ndayizeye, President of ITEKA.

Political tensions over the last several months in Burundi took a major turn with the recent resignation of the three government ministers from the UPRONA party. These resignations were in protest against the dismissal of Mr. Charles Nditije, president of UPRONA, by the Minister of the Interior, and the removal of the First VicePresident, Mr. Bernard Busoka (who is also a member of UPRONA), by the President of the Republic. As one of only two opposition parties to not have boycotted the 2010 general election, UPRONA had four representatives in the government (three ministers and a first Vice-President) and is today the second best represented party in the National Assembly. Rifts appeared between UPRONA and the ruling CNDD-FDD party, particularly when it came to debates on issues related to constitutional reform or the revision of the law on the National Commission for Lands and other Goods (CNTB).

These tensions grew in a context of stalled dialogue between the party in power and other political opposition parties. Despite most of the opposition leaders returning from exile and the adoption of a "roadmap to hold inclusive, free, fair and transparent elections in 2015," political tensions remain. The absence of a concrete consultation process on the reform of the Constitution - which some fear is only intended to allow Pierre Nkurunziza to seek a third presidential term - is likely to jeopardize the implementation of the provisions of the roadmap.

Similarly, concerns remain about the deteriorating security environment, in particular regarding acts of violence committed with total impunity by the young Imbonerakure, who are close to the presidential party. Their acts of violence, which have taken place in several provinces and are sometimes perpetrated with the complicity of state security forces, mostly target people perceived as being close to the opposition. These attacks have taken various forms: physical assaults, acts of intimidation, illegal collection of taxes, and disruption of political meetings. The violent clashes that occurred on 6 October 2013 between the young Imbonerakure and youth supporters of the MSD opposition party illustrate these tensions.

This alarming political and security climate is accompanied by a further reduction of the democratic space in Burundi. On 4 June 2013, a new law restricting the freedom of journalists by limiting the subjects they are allowed to cover and the protection granted to their sources is a recent example of the crackdown by the authorities. Similarly, the draft Law on Associations is a source of concern because as it stands it allocates significant powers to the Minister of the Interior. These include more stringent measures for obtaining official status and making it possible for the authorities to disband associations. In addition, the 28 January 2014 removal of the President of the Bar Association of Bujumbura, Mr. Isidore Rufyikiri, due to his stance against the draft constitutional reform and against the lack of independence of judges and magistrates, confirms the trend that Burundian authorities want to muzzle all dissenting voices.

According to Dismas Kitenge, Vice President of FIDH, "the Burundian authorities seem determined to silence any form of oppostion, and in a pre-electoral context, this gives rise to serious concerns. It is important to put Burundi back on the path towards rule of law. This requires an appropriate response to rapidly address the climate of distrust, insecurity and restrictions currently facing this country."

FIDH and ITEKA remind the Burundian authorities that under the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, they are obliged to ensure full rights and fundamental freedoms, to fight against acts of violence, and to ensure that perpetrators of violence are prosecuted before competent courts, while ensuring the independence and impartiality of the justice system.

As the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) is scheduled to soon decide on the renewal of the mandate of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), FIDH and ITEKA call on the members of the UN Security Council to ensure the continuation of a strong UN presence in Burundi. Our organizations also call on the Burundian authorities to agree to the request by the UN Secretary-General for a renewal of BNUB's mandate, as it is clear that ahead of a contentious electoral process, the presence of BNUB will help to ease tensions and prevent the risk of violence.

The 2015 elections in Burundi: towards authoritarianism or democratic consolidation?

Benjamin Chemouni 3 February 2014 / direct URL:

In this blog, Benjamin Chemouni looks at the prospects for Burundi's 2015 election, and the future of the post-conflict settlement. Benjamin is a PhD candidate in the Department of International Development, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). His research explores the variation of state effectiveness between Rwanda and Burundi.

The 2015 local, parliamentary and presidential elections will be crucial in determining whether the country is on the path of democracy or authoritarian consolidation. After the end of the civil war in 2005 and the victory of the rebel group CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defence of Democracy and the Forces for the Defence of Democracy), democracy and stability seemed closer than ever before. Since the end of the war, two elections have been deemed relatively free and fair, although far from perfect. Burundi's new constitution also contains the formulae for a meticulous consociational division of power, which allows a minimum of ethnic, gender and political pluralism. Such arithmetic is at the heart of the successful transition. Constitutionally, the government and the national assembly must now be 40% Tutsi, and 60% Hutu and must include 30% women. Any political party receiving more than 5% of votes is entitled to a ministerial post. The two vice-presidents must be from different ethnic groups and political parties. Ethnic quotas are also used in the composition of the senate, the army, and local governments. Such a system has been a crucial security guarantee in the post-war order for the Tutsi minority, which had dominated the state institutions since independence through the party UPRONA (Union for National Progress).

Worrying trends

This heritage is, however, increasingly under the attack of the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, as explained previously on this blog. Their hold on power was facilitated by the opposition's boycott of the 2010 elections. Since 2010, the ruling party has increased its efforts to close political space across the country. A law passed in June severely restricts media freedom. In addition, the ruling party has not been afraid to imprison journalists or kill members of the opposition.

The most worrying development, however, is the government's recent attempt to revise the country's constitution. This is especially alarming for two key reasons. Firstly, revisions would eliminate restrictions on the number of terms an individual can serve as president, conveniently allowing the incumbent President, Pierre Nkurunziza, to go beyond the current two term limit (1). Secondly, revisions would directly challenge the consociational power-sharing system agreed on at Arusha. Under the current draft revision of the constitution, a political party would need 5%, instead of the current 2%, to be represented at the national assembly. The two vice-presidents would also be replaced with a single, weaker vicepresident. This is worrying as a powerful first vice-president, ethnically different from the President, serves as a guarantee for the Tutsi minority that they will retain influence in the executive. Finally, laws would be passed if a majority of 50% and 1 vote were reached, whereas today, in order to foster consensus, 2/3 of the vote is needed. These changes would thus promote a majoritarian democracy over the current consociational democracy. This evolution is dangerous in the context of the long deeply divided Burundian society.

At present, it is unclear whether the constitutional revisions will be adopted. On one hand, the ruling party is determined to cement its power and allow its "champion", the current President, to run again since no other figure has emerged in the party and Pierre Nkurunziza's populist talents are of great use. The weight of the CNDD-FDD in both the national assembly and the senate would, technically, make such a change relatively easy. On the other hand, civil society, the opposition, and even the powerful Catholic Church are united in their opposition to the proposed changes, which means that the CNDD-FDD are alone in trying to promote the revision. Even the UPRONA, party not in the opposition, has announced its attachment to the current constitution, which apparently cost the president of UPRONA as well as the First VicePresident of the Republic (UPRONA as well) their respective seats.

2015: any real chance to challenge the ruling party?

The opposition is currently in bad shape, and further weakened by the constraints it faces from the ruling party. Most opposition parties have joined together to form the ADC Ikibiri (Alliance of Democrats for Change), born during the 2010 elections. However there are manifold problems with this alliance. The first question is whether the ADC Ikibiri can accommodate the multiple, powerful egos and unite behind a single candidate for the 2015 election. A second question is whether they can create a political platform that speaks to the concerns of the vast majority of the population, such as the increases in the cost of living. Thus far, it has largely been preoccupied by demands for fostering political dialogue and preparing for the 2015 elections. Therefore, the alliance appears as a coalition of urban intellectuals, whose discourse is directed toward civil society and the international community rather than voters.

Another handicap of the coalition is that it does not include what is maybe the most serious contender to the CNDD-FDD: the FNL (National Liberation Front). The second most important rebel group after the CNDD-FDD during the war, the FNL retains popularity in rural areas. However, the FNL is still divided between its current president, and its historic leader, the charismatic Agathon Rwasa, who hid for 3 years for fear of arrest by the government until his return in 2013. The party also suffers from an ideological void: the FNL is the heir of the Palipehutu (Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People), founded in 1980, which has long been the main Hutu political party and whose political demands were based on ethnic lines. In the current situation where power is held by a Hutu-dominated party, such ideological positioning is less relevant. However, whilst the party rarely resorts to ethnicity today, it has not articulated a new ideological discourse.

In addition to their internal difficulties, the opposition suffers from the CNDD-FDD strategy of restricting access to rural areas. This is achieved by constant intimidation of the members of opposition parties, creating hurdles at a local authority level for those seeking to organise political rallies, and so forth. At the national level, the ruling party also try to thwart any potential serious challenge. A vivid illustration is the recent attempt to discredit one of big names of the coalition, former ex-Vice President and member of the FRODEBU (The Front for Democracy in Burundi), Frederic Bamvuginyumvira. Reputed to be incorruptible, he was imprisoned as a result of what seems an unsubtle set-up by the authorities.

In contrast, the populist strategies of the current president, and the CNDD-FDD's persistent efforts to penetrate deeper into the countryside have been a success. Maybe less visibly, the CNDD-FDD has also become a huge patronage machine. Access to most state jobs in Burundi now hinges upon membership to the party. But this is often not sufficient: to demonstrate political loyalty, money usually has to exchange hands. For example, to become a teacher, the candidate often has to pay several months of salary upfront to the party. The goal is twofold for the CNDD-FDD: put loyal people into all positions in the state and generate income.

The best scenario for 2015

In this context, the transfer of power, although not impossible, is very unlikely. Some even fear that a defeat might lead the CNDD-FDD to take up arms again. Whether or not this is realistic, it certainly incentivises the population to keep voting for the CNDDFDD, and the party in the countryside distils this fear.

The best - or least bad - scenario might be a victory for the CNDDFDD, by a small margin. This scenario is possible because the legitimacy of the CNDD-FDD, although still prominent in rural areas, has started to erode. The population particularly resents the deplorable economic situation of the country, especially against the backdrop of rampant corruption. The growth of GDP per capita since the end of the war is almost nil, and inflation is galloping, averaging 18% in 2012 (source: World Bank).

A limited victory would allow the opposition to put a check on the CNDD-FDD's predatory tactics and their efforts to monopolize power. This situation might also undermine the party's current cohesiveness based increasingly on institutionalised corruption and clientelism. It would give a voice to the significantly important, but silent, category of party members exasperated by the rampant corruption and by the evolution of the CNDD-FDD into a party-state, precisely what they fought against at the time Burundi was ruled by the Tutsi-dominated UPRONA. Finally, by allowing increasing political plurality in the institutions, a limited victory for the CNDD-FDD would revitalize the consociational model elaborated in Arusha and currently under attack.

This scenario of limited victory for the ruling party requires two crucial conditions. Firstly, the opposition must not only stay united but also endeavour to reach the rural population, both ideologically and physically. Secondly, the ruling party must not be allowed to rig the elections. The role of the international community will be crucial in deterring fraud given its leverage on the government as provider of international aid, which Burundi desperately needs. Given its soft stance on the various scandals and authoritarian manoeuvres in Burundi to date, such support cannot be taken for granted.

(1): There is some confusion when it comes to Nkurunziza: as he was first elected president by the parliament in 2005, and not by direct popular suffrage, in accordance with the transitional arrangements, it has been argued that his first term should not be included in the current term limit. Such argument, if legally sound, remains far-fetched as it contradicts the Arusha agreement that clearly stipulates in article 7 that no one can be president more than twice.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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