FAST Update Burundi No. 1 Feb to Mar 2007

Originally published


BURUNDI - Trends in Conflict and Cooperation


Deepening rifts in Burundi's ruling Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) resulted in the party's president, Hussein Radjabu, being forced out at an extraordinary congress in Ngozi on 7 February. Radjabu has been increasingly perceived as a burden to the government as well as a political rival to President Pierre Nkurunziza. 'Burundi's strong man' was held responsible for recent errors such as last year's arrest of former President Domitien Ndayizeye and six other prominent opposition politicians on charges of coup plotting, followed by a massive crackdown against media and civil society activists. Subsequently, divides within the CNDD-FDD worsened and international assistance declined.

Under substantial internal and external pressure, and in the run-up to the next donor conference, on 15 January the Supreme Court acquitted five of the accused plotters, including Ndayizeye, on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. The verdict seemed to confirm what many had suspected, namely that Radjabu orchestrated the alleged coup plot in order to bolster his own power. Nonetheless, Alain Mugabarabona, who claimed that he had been tortured into confessing, and Tharcisse Ndayishimiye were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms of 20 and 15 years, respectively. In this way the government reportedly tried to save face, as earlier it had claimed to have indisputable evidence against Ndayizeye and the others.

Radjabu had to vacate his position and turn it over to Colonel Jérémie Ngendakumana, an ally of President Nkurunziza and former ambassador to Kenya. The ousting of the party chairman was accompanied by fears of violent confrontations with his supporters, especially after the discovery in early February of vast quantities of explosives in the south of the country and on a Tanzania-flagged boat near Nyanza-Lac. Up until now, there were consistent rumors of arms shipments to Burundi planned by Radjabu, ostensibly for the purpose of overthrowing President Nkurunziza. Indeed, Radjabu has contested the legality of the Ngozi congress and submitted his grievances to the High Court. At the same time he tried to gather support within and outside Burundi. On 7 March he was backed by 22 parliamentarians of the CNDD-FDD who boycotted their parliamentary group over the dismissal of the former party president and demanded the Constitutional Court to settle the case. Radjabu's claim was eventually rejected by the High Court on 5 April. In the aftermath of his removal, several of his loyalists in senior and lower level positions were also divested of office. These include second Vice-President Marina Barampama, the Minister of Communication and spokesperson of the government, Ramadhani Karenga, the President of the National Assembly, Imaculée Nahayo, as well as a number of heads of parastatals. Others, who had to leave for exile during Radjabu's rule, returned; namely former Vice- President Alice Nzomukunda, FRODEBU spokesman Pancrace Cimpaye, and CNDDFDD parliamentarian Mathias Basabose. On 27 April Radjabu was arrested and imprisoned after having been stripped of his immunity by parliament. He is accused of threatening national security due to the discovery of a tape that reportedly reveals his intention to overthrow the Nkurunziza Government.

The hope that the political crisis in Burundi would be resolved with the departure of Radjabu and his supporters did not materialize, even though conflictive political events decreased slightly (see graph). Ngendakumana, the newly elected president of CNDD-FDD, lacks the means to unify a party that is - noticeably with regard to the 2010 elections - marked by deepening internal divides and growing competition along regional lines and between rival personalities. President Nkurunziza, on the other hand, faces increasing criticism by the opposition over his incapacity for leadership. He is said to again dedicate most of his time to prayer and football instead of taking advantage of Radjabu's sacking to strengthen his power and influence. Moreover, on 13 March the Senate issued a statement censuring Nkurunziza for not respecting the institution of parliament. It particularly deplored the fact that the president hardly ever attends a session of parliament, and criticized him for violating the ethnic, political and gender balances as required by the constitution. The country, according to Burundi Réalités on 17 April, resembles a boat guided by a captain who completely ignores the itinerary and only navigates by improvisation and palpation.