Burundi: Anarchy and Regional Instability?

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Since President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi was sworn in for his controversial third term, which many consider unconstitutional, the country has not been the same. Many Burundians have been demonstrating on the street to voice out their opposition to the third term project. On the other hands, the government is responding with a high degree of repression.

In a typical carrot and stick approach, President Pierre Nkurunziza had first warned the demonstrators – whom he linked to the enemies of the state who tried to unseat him – of the consequences of their actions. But with the opposition becoming increasingly defiant, brute repression and all kinds of human rights violations, including targeted assassinations and protest-related deaths have become the order of the day in Burundi. The naked harassment of civilians and oppositions by the infamous armed Imbonerakure youth militias, linked to the government is systematically opening the old page of the Burundian bloody past, responsible for the unfortunate death of millions of innocent citizens. Worse than that, the present dicey situation in Burundi is a harbinger for the explosive ethnic dichotomy and imbalance of power, which the famous Arusha accord set out to address.

After years of anarchy and ethnic jingoism, many believed that President Pierre Nkurunziza had brought stability in Burundi since he came to power. The once explosive antagonism between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes had long been relatively buried in the spirit of patriotism. Security had been brought after years of political nihilism. But those successes are carelessly being thrown inside the volatile dustbin of chaos and turmoil due to political miscalculations and insatiable greed. The economy of Burundi is systematically heading to the abyss, both foreigners and Burundians are fleeing the country fearfully. The security is deteriorating. Has anyone with a clear knowledge of the Burundian politics doubt whether some unscrupulous elements could capitalize on the current chaos and play an ethnic card, thereby resurrecting the long buried ethnic consciousness in the country, which has claimed millions of lives?

It all started after President Pierre Nkurunziza declared his intention to contest in the last presidential election, at the end of his maximum two term tenure, which ended in June. The oppositions consider his third term move a breach of the constitution. But President Pierre Nkurunziza thinks otherwise. He argues that he was appointed during his first term, by the parliament; not elected by the electorates as stipulated in the constitution. The matter became more complicated, following the ruling of the country`s Constitutional Court – which many see as a rubber stamp tool of the president – in his favour. With the court “mandate“ in hand, President Pierre Nkurunziza seems to have put his ambitions ahead of the country`s political acrimonies. Calls from respected individuals and countries have fallen into a deaf ear. Not even a call by the USA on President Pierre Nkurunziza to reconsider his third plans for the sake of the country’s unity and fragile democracy was honoured. Recently, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon equally appealed to the Burundi government to engage in an “inclusive dialogue” which would bring both sides together rather than cause reprisals or revenge. Since he was first appointed by the parliament, Nkurunziza`s supporters argue, he has not been elected twice by the electorates. That brings one to another questions: Does the law stipulate that the president should be in the office more than twice? Could one say that President Pierre Nkurunziza was not the President of Burundi during his first term in the office mainly because he was appointed by the parliament ““ rather than elected by the electorates? If yes, would it be right and indeed fair enough, to declare all the actions, laws and acts of / under President Nkurunziza, during his first term in the office unconstitutional and null void on the basis of his Parliamentary appointment? Definitely, taking such a regressive step would only lead to immeasurable acrimonious consequences in the country. One believes this ugly scenario is what every right thinking, patriotic Burudian hardly wants for the country. But the explosive social-political situation in Burundi requires an immediate response.

If   not addressed quickly and decisively, the present blatant hostility in Burundi could effectively undermine the 2000 Arusha peace treaty which helped end the Burundi’s civil war, and created a peaceful avenue for the power sharing arrangement and ethnic balancing of power in Burundi – an arrangement which was not only hailed as a huge success, but had brought much needed political and economic stability in the land. Has President Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu, considered the implications of the acrimonies in Burundi with the neighbouring countries and in the whole region as well? The conflict has created a swarm of refugees, most of them Tutsi ethnic group, heading to Rwanda and other neighbouring countries. Could the atrocities in Burundi have negative implications for relationship amongst other ethnic groups ““ especially the Hutu and Tutsi in the volatile region? Could the problems in Burundi trigger a military response from Rwanda, a country trying hard to forge much needed unity and ethnic harmony amongst different ethnic groups in her country? Could some delinquents in the Democratic Republic of Congo utilize the mayhem in Burundi and ferment discords in Zaire? Now that donor countries have strongly condemned the Burundi`s government repressive tendencies and imposed sanctions on some members of Nkurunziza`s government, what is the government doing to resolve the crisis? Is the chaos causing drastic economic situation, particularly in rural areas? With the current political quagmire, how would history judge President Nkurunziza, who was once praised for bringing peace and stability to the once war-torn Burundi?

Definitely, the best way to solve the present political mess in Burundi is through the determined peaceful approach. So far, there is little to show that the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza is interested in such a move. Sadly, not when the government in Bujumbura is not willing to discuss the third term project, which has nursed the present predicament. Nor does it help that the President Pierre Nkurunziza`s government labels the opposition as “terrorists“ ““ the term which does not only undermine the legitimacy of the protesters, but equally explain the repressive action of the government towards them.

It remains to be seen how far the mayhem in Burundi can go on without dragging the military, regional ethnic zealots or other neighbouring countries into the infectious conflict. Does anyone doubt that some unscrupulous criminals could capitalize on the current hazardous political climate in Burundi and cause serious regional instability? Once the political cancer in Burundi is not quickly and well treated, chances are that it will spread to the entire fragile region with inflammable speed. This is an ugly precarious scenario we all must do our best to avoid.