Recent political tensions between Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), and the opposition, along with violent confrontations between youth groups and law enforcement officers, have raised serious questions about democratic stability in this country.
In this seminar, experts assessed Burundi’s current political and security landscape of Burundi and the risk of potential political violence ahead of the 2015 general elections.
Observations on the ground reveal a systematic and strategic closing of the political space by the CNDD-FDD, which hinders the opposition and civil society’s ability to contest government action. The ruling party’s current behaviour is reminiscent of the 2010 electoral campaign, when the state used legislative measures and administrative and security sector representatives to constrain opposition. The ruling party appears determined to have President Pierre Nkurunziza run for a third term, despite the two-term limit stipulated in the Arusha Agreement and in the Constitution.
The opposition is also challenged by its own inability to maintain a united front against the ruling party. Within individual parties, splintering is commonplace – partly due to meddling from the Ministry of the Interior in the internal affairs of political parties, but also because of internal power struggles. Moreover, the ADC-Ikibiri coalition still lacks consistent leadership. This begs the question whether it will be able to nominate a presidential candidate that all parties can agree upon.
As the elections near, it will be important to monitor the politicisation of land issues by both the ruling party and the opposition. Land shortage and high population density have contributed to the decades of violence in Burundi. Consequently, the Arusha Agreement paid particular attention to land management reforms.
However, the current land management framework has to a large extent failed to address many of the refugees and internally displaced persons’ grievances. Historically, most of those who lost their land were Hutu, while many of those who took over those lands were Tutsi. There is increasing concern that political stakeholders of either group may use recent controversial land management reforms to bring an ethnic dimension to land issues, which could revive ethnic tensions in what has recently been a purely political struggle across party lines.
Participants agreed that while tensions are rising on the ground, the likelihood of a Rwanda-type genocide in Burundi is quite low. The army is relatively well integrated between ethnic groups, also rendering a military coup unlikely. However, the most important security concern remains the high number of small arms in circulation, and allegations that the CNDD-FDD youth wing, the Imbonerakure, are being armed by the ruling party. While the government vehemently denies these claims, credible reports allege that members of the groups have been imposing law and order in the countryside, hindering the opposition’s ability to campaign outside of Bujumbura.
The event brought together high-level expertise on political, security, land management and diplomatic issues. The audience also benefited from the government’s official perspective of the situation in Burundi.