Elections in Burundi: Moment of Truth

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The full report is available in: French


The elections scheduled to take place between the end of May and August 2015 will be decisive for Burundi. The future of the present rulers (President Pierre Nkurunziza considers running for a third term) and, more importantly, the upholding of the 2000 Arusha agreement as the foundation for peace, are at stake. Popular protests and the precedent set by the fall of Burkina Faso’s president suggest street confrontations will take place if President Nkurunziza decides to impose his candidacy. The return to violence would not only end the peace progressively restored since the Arusha agreement, it would also have destabilising consequences in the region and mark a failure in peacebuilding. To avoid this scenario, Burundi’s partners, who have already expressed their concerns, should increase their involvement in the electoral process and prepare a gradual response depending on how inclusive the process will be.

With the upcoming congress of the ruling party, which is supposed to decide on its presidential candidate, and the 26 May legislative and local elections only a few weeks away, tension is rising and prospects for free and fair polls are slimmer by the day. While preparatory meetings held in 2013 and the return of opposition leaders to the country raised hopes of an electoral process based on dialogue between the regime and the opposition, there are increasing signs of a looming electoral crisis. The partisan use of state institutions, exactions committed by youth militia (the Imbonerakure), the lack of confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), strategies by the regime to reduce the inclusivity of the electoral process and the president’s will to run again exacerbate tensions. The opposition wants revenge after its defeat in the 2010 polls, but it remains uncertain if its leaders will be allowed to contest the elections.

The prospect of a third term for President Nkurunziza calls into question the preservation of peace in Burundi. The president is risking it all by trying to force his name on the ballot, against the Catholic Church, civil society, a fraction of his own party and most external partners. The opposition’s survival is at stake and the security forces are unsure how to react in case of violent crisis. The situation is much more serious than the failed 2010 elections: what lies behind this new electoral cycle is the upholding of the Arusha agreement as the foundation of Burundi’s regime.

International actors are aware of the stakes and risks associated with the upcoming electoral cycle, and some neighbouring countries are closely monitoring the situation. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Tanzanian president, Belgian ministers and the UN Security Council recently came to Bujumbura; the Burundian president and his Rwandese counterpart met in Rwanda and a UN electoral mission (MENUB) was sent in early 2015. As some Burundians flee to Rwanda, the country’s relapse into violence would be a pitfall outcome for the guarantors of the Arusha agreement and could fuel regional crisis. The reaction of Burundi’s partners – especially the guarantors of the Arusha agreement – is not commensurate with the gravity of the situation. They must urgently mobilise sufficient resources and will have to get more involved to prevent rising tensions between supporters of the president and of the opposition and to avoid confrontation in the streets.


To improve the electoral process

To the ruling party:

  1. Announce its support to an inclusive electoral process during its next congress and refrain from using any belligerent rhetoric.

To the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political parties and civil society organisations under the auspices of MENUB:

  1. Negotiate an agreement on the methodology and a realistic timeframe to improve the reliability of the voter rolls.

  2. Guarantee unlimited access to national, provincial and local electoral commissions by party representatives and candidates and by observers throughout the compilation of results. To international partners, in particular the European Union and African Union:

  3. Appoint high-level political figures who are well known by Burundian and regional actors at the head of their observation missions.

  4. Create a coordination mechanism gathering all international electoral observation missions, under the joint supervision of the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU), in order to avoid duplicating efforts or sending contradictory messages and to guarantee maximum coverage of polling stations.

  5. Increase donor support to Burundi’s civil society to help it properly monitor the electoral process and polling stations, pay careful attention to hate speech and ethnic rhetoric as well as risks of escalating violence and intimidation.

To the INEC:

  1. Publish the list of the candidates for each election on its website and in the official journal.

  2. Publish on its website and disseminate through radios the detailed results of each polling station and keep all the information featured on the reports issued by each polling station.

If President Nkurunziza runs for a third term

To international partners, and especially to the UN Security Council:

  1. Task the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes Region to negotiate a suspension of protests with the opposition and the ruling party, remind them of their commitments to a peaceful electoral process and encourage the return of Burundians who fled to Rwanda.

  2. Create a group of friends of the Arusha agreement, gathering the guarantors of the agreement and the countries that are concerned with Burundi’s stability, to call on all Burundian political parties to reaffirm their commitment to the Arusha principles.

  3. Inform the heads of the Burundian security services that repression against the population will lead to an investigation by the International Criminal Court, a reduction or a suspension of U.S. and European military and police cooperation programs, a visa ban and the blacklisting of those officers involved in repression to serve in AU and UN peacekeeping missions.

  4. Reinforce the human and financial capacities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights so that it can provide significant support to Burundian organisations monitoring human rights violations before, during and after the elections.

To the opposition:

  1. Challenge the validity of President Nkurunziza’s candidacy before the East African Community’s Court of Justice in light of EAC constitutive principles.

If some opposition leaders are excluded from the electoral competition

To the opposition:

  1. Introduce a submission to the INEC and the Constitutional Court.

To the group of friends of the Arusha agreement:

  1. Organise without delay a roundtable in Bujumbura with the ruling party and the opposition to agree on a consensual and inclusive solution. To the International Criminal Court:

  2. Publish a communiqué warning that the prosecutor will investigate any electoral violence.

To Belgium and the Netherlands:

  1. Withhold their last financial contribution for the elections.

To the European Union:

  1. Switch from reinforced political dialogue to the consultations provided for in article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement. If they are not conclusive, consider the suspension of its institutional assistance.

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 April 2015