On Burundi’s unrest and all

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

ALTHOUGH an attempted coup d’etat that would have thrown Burundi into a crisis of endless bloodletting has been contained, the fragile peace enveloping the country’s shifting social and political landscape, amidst escalating unrest, is a tell-tale sign that Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza must be called to order.

He must be called to order in the strongest condemnatory terms by the African Union, civil rights advocates and the international community if further tragic political, ethnic and humanitarian crises are to be averted. And the time to do so is now.

Burundi, a beleaguered nation just crawling into normalcy after a destructive war 10 years ago, was being thrown into another violent political impasse by the action of its leaders.

Early last month the president sought reprieve in the court of law to contest in this year’s election, a situation that would enable him serve a third term should he win the forthcoming presidential election. Fearing the disastrous political consequence of a favourable court pronouncement, the Chief Justice took flight, and another judge gave Nkurunziza clearance to run for third term.

As expected, the consequence was a spiral of protests and violent clashes between opposition and government security forces.

The violence was far from abating when a failed coup attempt was carried out by an army general Godefroid Niyombare, while the president attended the 13th extra-ordinary summit of the East African Community (EAC) in neighbouring Tanzania to discuss the unrest.

In spite of the failed coup attempt, mobilisation against Nkurunziza’s third term agenda and clashes between government authorities and the ‘Halte au troisième mandate’ (Stop the Third Mandate) movement are intensifying. Humanitarian crises and cholera outbreaks have been declared in refugee camps, as nearly 100,000 Burundians flee to neighbouring countries.

Amidst all this, is the government’s crackdown on journalists as well as hounding and assassination of leading opposition figures.

This audacious display of executive recklessness is a typical story of African presidents. A young man, apparently intoxicated by power, conjures extra-judicial devices to stifle opposition because he is reluctant to leave office.

It is tragic that this Burundian head of state appears to have forgotten the genocidal episode that pitched Hutus against Tutsis not too long ago. If badly handled, the present circumstance could become another genocide in the making.

While the coup is condemnable, equally abhorrent is the intention of the president to seek an unconstitutional elongation of his tenure.

If Burundi, the East African sub-region and the entire continent of Africa are to be saved from the trademark predicaments of epidemics, indiscriminate bloodshed, refugee problems, penury, and racial ignominy, stringent measures must be taken.

The crises rocking Burundi are not new to the continent, for they are recurrent episodes in the political history of many African states.

The embarrassing cases of Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Sudan, amongst other sit-tight presidents come to mind. As could be observed, this chronic malady of African political administrator is not the machination of external forces.

It is the bare-faced, brutal craving for power of a young man, who has chosen to tread the path of infamy, rather than learn from the destructive mistakes which many African leaders are notorious for. It is the tragedy of Africa that African leaders conjure whatever devices or means possible to elongate their stay in power.

By the action of his government, through the gagging of the press, harassing journalists and civil rights crusaders, and stifling opposition, Nkurunziza has demonstrated in crude terms the despicable character of ill-famed African leaders. President Nkurunziza’s action is disappointing and reprehensible; he has written his name on the roll of dishonour.

Although the EAC has asked the Burundian electoral authorities to postpone the election by six weeks, postponement would not by any means solve the problem.

It is unfortunate that the summit of the EAC only recommended a postponement of the elections, rather than convince President Nkurunziza not to pursue a third term bid. Burundi should go back to the old Constitution instead of shifting the goalpost in the middle of the game.

The argument adduced by the spokesperson of the government that Nkurunziza was hand-picked by the parliament in 2005 for the presidency is a mere exercise in vacuous legalism.

The issue at stake is whether or not Nkurunziza has served two terms. If postponement is an agreed position of both parties, the government must ensure that imprisoned protesters are freed, freedoms of speech and information as well as the right of the opposition to peaceful assembly are restored.

Furthermore, the African Union must ensure that a human rights observation mission by the African Union is put in place.

On its part, the international community, especially Burundi’s donors and foreign supporters should direct development aids towards civil society, while regional bodies currently sustaining the Burundian government should withdraw their budgetary support and re-allocate it to humanitarian aid for Burundian refugees.

Moreover, to prevent a re-enactment of the Rwanda-Burundi crisis, the International Criminal Court (ICC) should open up investigations into the violence and assassination and establish responsibility of defaulters in both the government security forces and the opposition.

The international community should also put pressure on the president to avoid a re-enactment of the Rwanda-Burundi crisis.

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