Burundi on the eve of elections

News and Press Release
Originally published
For the past three years, the Wilson Center's Africa Program has been deeply involved in directing a leadership training program in the war-torn Central African nation of Burundi. When the country selects its first democratically-chosen president since 1993 on August 19th, Burundians hope to bring a close to 12 years of conflict, instability and inter-communal massacres that have left more than 300,000 dead and 1.6 million displaced. There is great optimism within Burundi and among international observers that this election will proceed peacefully and mark the beginning of a new era of recovery and development in Burundi. Over the past year, there have been many great strides.

The country has already witnessed a successful Constitutional Referendum with over 90 percent voter turn-out and an overwhelming "yes" vote, and largely peaceful elections for the parliament, senate and local administrations.

The United Nations established an observer mission in 2004 that has had a significant calming effect on a very nervous population. Within the security forces, key elements to a stable and sustainable transition, demobilization, disarmament and reintegration are moving forward, and the Chiefs of Staff of both the army and the national police are demonstrating a commitment to building cohesive, reformed national institutions.

Six of the seven former rebel groups are participating in the electoral process, and there are positive signs that the remaining rebel group may be willing to be integrated into a peace process after the elections. Overall, the peaceful and responsible unfolding of the general elections are a cause for optimism - and testimony to the strength of the prevailing peace dynamic among Burundians.

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--For more information about the progression of the Burundi conflict, download Conflict-Sensitive Development Assistance: The Case of Burundi, a new World Bank conflict analysis, co-authored by World Bank expert Juana Brachet and Africa Program Director Howard Wolpe

Challenges for the Future

On August 19, there is little doubt that the new president will be Pierre Nkurunziza, who led the largest armed movement in opposition to the government over the last several years, the CNDD-FDD. He will be only the second Hutu President to be elected in this majority Hutu country, the first of whom was assassinated in the months following his election in 1993. So, the tasks confronting Burundi after the election are formidable, both in terms of economic development and reconciliation and justice issues.

Burundians face many challenges in their effort to overcome - indeed, to transcend - their tragic post-independence history. Their hopes for a sustainable post-war recovery will depend, in large measure, on the ability of the nation's highly polarized leadership to find a means of working collaboratively across the lines of ethnic and political division to rebuild its institutional capacity.

This, in turn, will require the nation's leaders to abandon the zero-sum, "win-lose" paradigm induced by war in favor of a paradigm that recognizes their inter-dependence. They must come to a new understanding that, while some of their interests may be in conflict, Burundians - Tutsi, Hutu and Twa -- have important interests in common; as a consequence, they stand to gain far more by collaboration than by struggle. Beyond this paradigm shift, Burundian leaders must also rebuild their personal relationships and trust, reach agreement on how power will be organized and decisions will be made, and develop more cooperative modes of discourse.

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--For more information about one of the challenges the new government faces, download "It Always Rains in the Same Place First:" Geographic Favoritism in Rural Burundi, a new briefing by Marc Sommers, international evaluator for the Wilson Center's Community Based Leadership Program

Training for Peace and Reconstruction

In order to assist Burundians in meeting these challenges, the Wilson Center launched a major capacity-building initiative in December 2002, with the support of the World Bank's Post Conflict Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). The Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP) aims to building a cohesive, sustainable network of key leaders able to work collaboratively, across all of the lines of ethnic and political division, in guiding the institutional transformation required for the country's economic reconstruction and a durable peace.

Through this program, 95 key Burundian leaders, strategically selected on the basis of Burundian perceptions of their potential for shaping Burundi's future, and drawn from diverse ethnic, social and institutional backgrounds have received intensive training in a broad range of leadership skills: conflict analysis, communications, negotiations, visioning, group problem-solving, team-building, strategic planning, and the management of organizational change.

This training has been expanded, at Burundian request, to include the Joint Ceasefire Commission, the newly integrated Military High Command, the newly integrated Police High Command, leaders of 31 of the 33 political parties, and the Joint Liaison Teams of the United Nations, who oversee the demobilization process.

In all, almost 400 national leaders have been involved. The program also has been expanded to train community based leaders in conflict management and resolution skills, in order to peacefully effect the reintegration of displaced and refugee populations. Almost 3,700 community leaders have to date received this training. The British assistance agency, the Department for International Development, has just announced a two-year funding commitment to the Wilson Center to continue the capacity building work through the difficult transition ahead.

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--For an overview of the Burundi Leadership Training Program, listen to a recent news report by National Public Radio's Marianne McCune, who observed the first training of the National Police Command, or read an article based on her experiences.