Picking up the Pieces:The Aftermath of Burundi’s Elections

Embattled Burundi President Nkurunziza in a past event.

Barely six days to the official inauguration date, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza baffled many when he was sworn in for his third term injunction on Thursday 20 August, 2015. This came as a shock to Burundi as a nation and the world at large because the formal inauguration was slated for six day ahead.
That was a few days just after the National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord issued him until the 26th August to step down. The shocking inauguration sparked off an argument that Nkurunziza’s camp has absolutely no room for any further dialogue whatsoever as far as the validity of a third mandate is concerned.
Well, the electoral turmoil in Burundi occurs apace with a thought-provoking transformation of its political scene as the former rivals have made up their mind to “marry” the forces, while allies have failed to find ways to sustain partnerships. As of the elections in 2010, the Tutsi-monopolized Union for National Progress (UPRONA) party led by Charles Nditije revoltedfrom the opposition, which had snubbed the elections, and consequently took part in the electoral process and they eventually were granted big seats in Parliament and very vital government dockets. Later on, Nditije was thrown out of the government by Nkurunziza and Concilie Nibigira would later take over the leadership of the party in government. As a result Nditije then turned to Agathon Rwasa, his former foe and head of a profound Hutu association, to structure a political affiliation.
Up to date, Concilie’s UPRONA finds itself on the quicksand with the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), as highly disputed results of the parliamentary elections saw the party awarded only two seats and in the process, the Rwasa-Nditije coalition, which had in one way snubbed the elections, won a whopping 20 slots and even more. But reliable sources indicate that the union seems to have since floundered as Agathon Rwasa, Nkurunziza’s rival, decided to join Parliament with other members of the National Liberation Front (FNL), while Nditije and associates declined to take up their slots in dissent of the electoral process.
Something that would raise peoples ‘eyebrows is the fact that CNARED consolidates under its umbrella defectors of the CNDD-FDD,other opposition parties, and members of civil society, scaling the heights of blackmail between political and the non-political camps.
Quite a handful African emissaries who showed up at Nkurunziza’s inauguration function were conspicuously from Tanzania, Kenya and Egypt alongside others from China and Russia. Also in attendance was South African Deputy Minister of Security, Ellen Molekane. The Catholic Church, which was vehemently against Nkurunziza’s third mandate, was represented by Monseigneur Rugerinyange Anatole.
Regardless of how, no heads of state showed up for the event. While represented by diplomats, the European Union and the United States (US) did not send ambassadors. The African Union (AU) and the East African Community (EAC) were not represented either. Some diplomatic missions sent apologies and said they were unable to attend given the last-minute schedule change, though this may have been a way to politely decline the invitation.
It is also surprising to note that the Ugandan government – a key member in negotiations – was not aware of the plans for an impromptu ceremony and raised its eyebrows over the sudden change. Well, another key issue is that during his inaugural address, Nkurunziza made a proclamation about the revision ofarticle 129 of the constitution to lower the 5% brink of votes mandatory for a party to be contained in the government of the day. According to the president, the move would allow the National Unity Government to take the lion’s share of seats in the government.
Exotically, article 129 also states that the government must be comprised of 60% Hutu and 40% Tutsi representatives. The modification could then give a green light to the ruling party to also change the ethnic allotment passed in Arusha. Ethnic and gender portions have already been ousted from the internal rules of the national assembly, raising concerns about the ruling party’s commitment to ethnic-based power-sharing.
Finally, Nkurunziza urged religious organizations and civil society groups to refrain from political involvement, and announced that a law curbing the scope of their actions would soon be passed. With a comfortable majority in government, the ruling party is sure to maintain legislative control – and it may be inclined to further curtail inclusive politics and the political space.
Meanwhile, the level of violence has escalated on both sides of the political divide. Like we saw following the 2010 elections, most of the violence appears to be between political actors. Highly prominent individuals have been attacked. On 2 August, General Adolph Nshimirimana, an insider to the president’s inner circle and widely seen as Burundi’s de facto internal security chief, was killed in a rocket attack.
Two days later, on 4 August, prominent human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was shot and severely injured on his way home. On 15 August, former army chief, Colonel Jean Bikomagu, was shot dead in front of his house. Finally, on 22 August, Pontien Barutwanayo, the only commune administrator representing Rwasa’s FNL, was assassinated, leaving little doubt that all political parties are vulnerable to the current insecurity.
But while these high-value targets heighten tensions, it is the ordinary Burundians who continue to bear the brunt of the political violence. Indeed, young members from both the opposition and the ruling party are the primary victims of assassinations and extra-judicial killings. These killings stem from a combination of opportunism and political targeting.
The great winner in the story, at least for the moment, is Nkurunziza. But this victory requires nuanced analysis. While Nkurunziza has succeeded in forcing a way to maintain the presidency – and this despite weeks of protests, opposition from the AU and Western donors – this has come at high cost to him and the country.
The attempted coup and continued violence by some armed elements of the opposition point to divisions in the armed forces. Moreover, General Adolph’s assassination has demonstrated that even Nkurunziza’s inner circle is vulnerable. Politically, while Nkurunziza has maintained a considerable level of popularity, many Burundians no longer recognize him as the legitimate president.
Additionally, months of unrest have crippled the economy. The Burundian government has been strengthened ties with Russia and China, which is likely to yield some sort of financial assistance in the near future. Nevertheless, the violence has slowed down foreign investment and led key donors to reconsider their aid. This, in turn, has added to continued challenges in providing basic services to citizens. Unless Nkurunziza restores confidence and economic assistance, he may face increased discontent.
A recent communiqué by the US State Department noted that Nkurunziza’s inauguration does not signal the end of the crisis. The ruling party says it is now willing to engage in dialogue to form a government of national unity. Given that many in the opposition don’t see Nkurunziza’s presidency as legitimate, it may be challenging to find willing interlocutors. But as young people on both sides of the political divide continue to die, the apparent disengagement of regional actors is unacceptable.
We have yet to understand whether the AU military experts and human rights observers, who were in Burundi during the attacks on General Adolph and Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, fulfilled their mission and attempted to de-escalate the situation. Similarly, an increased level of violence has seen no public engagement by President Museveni, the EAC’s appointed mediator. Preventative diplomacy may have failed in Burundi, but it is imperative that those mandated to mediate the conflict promptly resume their engagement.