Burundi edges closer to abyss

Pierre Nkurunziza. PHOTO: AFP

Pierre Nkurunziza. PHOTO: AFP

Burundi is seen by many as alarmingly close to the edge of the abyss. Given the salience of such informal control mechanisms, this is hardly surprising. Such is the consensus of most Burundi experts. Their views are corroborated by the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues report, the 2016 report of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, many Human Rights Watch reports and the international media.

A bleak future
But what adds to the sense of pessimism is such actions as the appointment of notorious hard-liners to key positions.

For example, General Evariste Ndayishimiye’s appointment as the secretary general of the Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie – the current ruling party in Burundi. This leaves few doubts about the intransigence of the regime. He is known to be a tough-minded general and viscerally anti-Tutsi.
Ethnicity is becoming more noticeable as a policy issue. A growing number of Tutsi elements have been excluded from key government positions. In February of 2016 some 700 Tutsi troops were forced into early retirement. The police force and the ruling party’s youth wing, now undergoing regular military training, have become virtually mono-ethnic, and so too the security units operating alongside the normal channels.

Perhaps even more ominous is the outrageous language used by the president of the Senate, Reverien Ndikuriyo. Some of his utterances have been reminiscent of the coded euphemisms employed during the Rwanda genocide as synonyms for killing Tutsi. He even made reference to “going to work”, a metaphor for killing.

It is easy to see why the thinly veiled anti-Tutsi posturings of the Nkurunziza regime should be seen by many as payback for the 1972 tragedy. Some 200,000 Hutu were killed at the hands of a predominantly Tutsi army. Hundreds if not thousands of Tutsi civilians were killed by Hutu insurgents.

The prospects for reconciliation are bleak. Formal gestures by the government to nudge the legitimate opposition parties to join an intra-Burundi dialogue have consistently failed. As for the weak and fragmented rebel forces in exile, nothing short of a miracle would enable them to capture power in the foreseeable future.

There have been repeated attempts by organisations like the African Union to impose sanctions aimed at stopping atrocities and prepare the ground for the presence of an international protection force. These efforts have not been successful.

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