Nairobi, Kenya – A seminar hosted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Nairobi identified significant areas of risk in Burundi ahead of the 2015 elections.
Held in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the seminar highlighted the following key aspects to be monitored in the run-up to next year’s polls:
- The current closing of the political space is very similar to that of the 2010 electoral campaign. This is manifested by the passing and arbitrary enforcement of restrictive laws regulating the media, political parties, the opposition and the right of public assembly.
- Although there is an ethnic dimension to the political tensions, it should not be overstated. The political contest in Burundi remains a struggle for power that cuts across ethnic and party lines.
- The opposition itself is fragmented. The inability of the opposition to campaign in the periphery of the capital is mostly due the government blocking access to the countryside.
- Allegations of the arming of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) youth wing and the group’s increased presence in the countryside remains one of the greatest threats to the country’s stability.
- Some 90% of the population in this densely populated country is dependent on subsistence agriculture.
- Land reform programmes did not consider informal land management mechanisms, which have been instrumental in Burundian society.
- As land is restituted to previous owners, current occupants are set to lose out, which gives rise to social tensions.
- As the majority of the returnees who lost their land during the decades of conflict are Hutu, and many of those who took over the lands with the acquiescence of the government of the time were Tutsi, attempts to politicise land management during the electoral campaign risks reigniting ethnic tensions.
The proliferation of weapons
- There is a regional history of instability that has fuelled the flow of small arms in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.
- Burundi’s porous borders with its neighbours are a risk factor in the proliferation of weapons in the country.
- Disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration (DDR) programmes ignored the fact that combatants were not the only ones who were heavily armed during the war: the civilian population was also armed, leaving a significant quantity of small arms and light weapons in circulation.
- Allegations of the ruling party arming its youth wing, the Imbonerakure, are an important concern and potential threat to the country.
Role of regional actors
- Regional actors such as the African Union (AU) have been key in mediating discussions between the opposition and the ruling party.
- The AU along with the European Union, the United States and United Nations are closely monitoring the political situation in Burundi and are hoping for an opening of the political space.
For further information contact:
Yolande Bouka, Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Nairobi
Phone: +254 728 607 642
The ISS is an African organisation that aims to enhance human security on the continent. It does independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance.