Burundi: towards another civil war?

Since Pierre Nkurunziza inauguration, what the best observers predicted seems to happen: citizens and political opposition are restless while the government increases arrests and intimidation, thereby nurturing the cycle of violence.

Not surprisingly, the Burundian President Nkurunziza was re-elected in the aftermath of the presidential 21 July election. For all that, citizens and political opposition still contest what appeared to be an illegitimate power grab. The security situation is still precarious, as recent arrests, assassinations and pressures of all kinds testify.

On 18 September, the Public Prosecutor of the Republic announced the issuance of international arrest warrants against Nkurunziza third-term opponents. Valentin Bagorikunda justified this by the role played by some political parties and medias in the insurgent movement organisation that could have destabilised the government. Thus, these players would have been accomplices in the 13 May failed coup. For the moment, two international arrest warrants have been issued while “other ones are currently being carried out[1]”.

Earlier, massive arrests have happened. Several incidents have been observed in Gitega, in central Burundi, and in the province of Makamba, in the south. In Gitega, the country’s second largest city, more than 150 young men have been arrested in two days. Similar events happened in the above mentioned province, where more than 30 people have been arrested by the police forces on 16 September[2]. Civil society representatives denounce these growing arrests. For its part, the government attempts to soothe all movements that could bear prejudice to the established order. These arrests have been in response of the murder of Joseph Bigirimana, the area chief of Kivago, who was killed by gunmen at his home.

Violence is breaking out from both sides – the government and its security apparatus are faced with political opposition and civil society. An action led against the regime (such as the killing of he top military general Adolphe Nshimirimana in August[3]), or supposed to be led against it, induces repression, in whatever form it takes. Likewise, intimidation or acts of violence against an opposition member (Patrice Gahungu, following Zedi Feruzi, was murdered by unknown gunmen on 7 September) bring about a feeling of injustice and so reprisal. Every action from one side has consequences on the other and maintains the explosive nature of the situation. We therefore attend a genuine violence escalation in Burundi, started with Nkurunziza volition to run for a third term.

One can fear that the situation could quickly degenerate into a new civil war[4], as the President intends to keep power – at least for his third term – whereas citizens, civil society and political opposition mean to pursue contestation. Recently, the coalition named Cnared (Conseil national pour le respect de l’accord d’Arusha et la restauration d’un État de droit au Burundi) has called for opening negotiations outside the country. For the opposition leader, the time is now: “Nkurunziza declared war on his people {…}. And under these circumstances, negotiations have to be conducted in the freedom of thought and have to take place outside[5]. The more pessimistic analysts could say that another attempt to start dialogue will be useless. They may be right. For sure, Nkurunziza must be relieved with the recent coup in Burkina Faso; as many observers and medias focus now on that country, he can expect to be less pressured by international community to open a dialogue with other Burundian stakeholders and so, when necessary, crack down on every protest movements.

Déborah Guidez

[1] AllAfrica, Burundi: Des mandats d’arrêt internationaux émis contre des opposants, 18/09/2015. 

[2] Bujumbura News, Série d’arrestations massives dans le centre et le sud du Burundi, 17/09/2015.

[3] The Washington Post, Burundi’s opposition party spokesman killed in capital, 8/09/2015.

[4] Mediapart, Le spectre d’une nouvelle guerre civile au Burundi, 18/09/2015.

[5] RFI, Burundi: l’opposition souhaite l’organisation d’un dialogue hors du pays, 16/09/2015.

Déborah Guidez


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