FAST Update Burundi: Quarterly Risk Assessment Sep - Nov 2004

Risk Assessment:

The last three months have seen a slow tapering off of Conflictual Actions and some encouraging signs of growing stability, namely for the month of October. The threat to the transition posed by the Gatumba massacre did not materialize. The transition period has been extended by six months, with legislative and presidential elections now scheduled for March and April 2005, respectively. Local elections are scheduled for February 2005. A five-member National Electoral Commission (NEC) has been appointed, and voter registration has been completed. A draft constitution has been adopted which confirms the sharing of power between Hutu and Tutsi on the basis of a 60/40 ratio in the government and the legislature, except for the armed forces and the Senate where the ratio is 50/50, and the appointment of two vice-presidents, a Hutu and a Tutsi. A referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for December 22, 2004.

The most significant indicator of improved stability has been the absence of violent reaction to President Domitien Ndayizeye's decision on November 10 to sack his Tutsi vice-president, Alphonse Marie Kadege, in response to the latter's refusal to accept the new constitutional arrangement on the grounds that it unduly favors the interests of Hutu-dominated parties.

Meanwhile, apparently heeding Ndayizeye's warning, six Tutsi-dominated parties dropped their long-standing opposition to the constitution.

Equally significant has been the adoption of a law creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by the transitional national assembly; a key provision in the reform package negotiated at the Arusha conference (1998-2000). The biggest challenge facing the TRC will be to come to terms with the crimes committed since the country became independent in 1962, including the mass crimes committed against Hutu in 1972 and against Tutsi in 1993.

Although the real test of stability will come with the elections next year, the track record of the transition government over the past three months bodes well for the future. Another reason for optimism is the reactivation of the long dormant Implementation and Monitoring Committee (IMC) under the leadership of Carolyn McAskie, IMC Chairperson and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. The IMC has contributed significantly to bolstering the peace process. Its stabilizing effect is likely to continue through the transition until the election of a new government.

Risk Assessment:

While the rate of Relative Government Direct Actions has steadily declined over the past three months, Relative Civil Direct Actions have increased significantly since October. There have been reports that elements of Pierre Nkurunziza's former rebel movement, the Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) have been harassing civilians in and around the capital. Among the 5,000 former CNDD-FDD combatants working alongside the government forces, some have been said to engage in looting of property, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention of civilians. Nkurunziza has denied the accusations. Apart from that there are indications of growing discontent among the hundreds of Hutu refugees returning from Tanzania to the northeastern province of Ruyigi, where many face "pathetic living conditions", according to local observers, without food and shelter. Complaints of irregularities in the registration process have been voiced from political parties and civil society organizations. It appears that thousands of women, mostly from rural areas, were left out of the registration process because they lacked identity cards. According to Mireille Niyonzima, chairperson of the Association pour la Défense des Droits de la Femme (ADDF), "one out of every three women in rural areas does not have an identity card, and this opens the way to exclusion".

Harassment of civilians by former rebels is part of a pattern that has been going on for months. While some rebel units have been integrated within the army, this is no guarantee that they will not turn against the people they are supposed to protect.

Furthermore, disarmament is only beginning. The secretariat of the demobilization commission expects to demobilize 14,000 ex-combatants annually for the next three years, but so far, according to a government spokesman, only 2,561 former combatants have volunteered to be demobilized.

Unrest among refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) gives evidence on the enormous logistical and financial difficulties involved in attending to the welfare of approximately 220,000 Burundians who returned to their homeland since 2002. It is also related to the multiplicity of organizations and conflicting areas of jurisdiction involved in the resettlement process. Although returnees are given a repatriation package, including a three-month food ration, cooking utensils and blankets, their long-term future remains bleak.

The disarmament of former rebel soldiers and the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees are the two most pressing issues that need to be resolved if social unrest is to be kept within reasonable bounds. That they will not be settled before the elections is cause for concern. How far Hutu extremists will seek to make hay out of these issues remains to be seen.

Risk Assessment:

The overall trend of the last three months, as shown in the above graphic, has been towards a decline of Civil and Government Forceful Actions, with the latter increasing in November.

Nevertheless, there has been continued unrest in Bujumbura Rural province. Already in October, in a clean-up operation directed against rebels of the Forces Nationales pour la Libération (FNL), the Burundi army killed 17 FNL rebels in Isale commune, and seven more in Kanyosha. An attack against civilians in early November led to the theft of property in the Bujumbura suburb of Kanyosha but no human lives were reported lost. Although witnesses said the attackers were CNDD-FDD, this was categorically denied by their military spokesman, Col. Jeremie Ngendakuma.

Meanwhile antipersonnel land mines killed two children in the Cibitoke province. Landmines continue to pose grave threats to local population; their largest concentration is reported to be in the vicinity of the Kibira forest and along the Burundi-Tanzania border.

Although the FNL remains a violent threat in and around Bujumbura Rural, no one seriously believes that it can derail the peace process. A more serious danger lies in the deepening unrest in eastern Congo, and in the possibility that new alliances could be forged between the FNL and Hutu militias, especially the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

Another potential menace stems from the presence of tens of thousands of former CNDD-FDD rebels that are still carrying arms, and whose "services" could be enlisted by Hutu candidates at election time.

In view of the significant decline in politically inspired violence there are reasons for optimism about the immediate future. The elections will take place in conditions of vastly improved security. There is no evidence of the FNL regaining strength; if anything the opposite is closer to the truth, thus raising the possibility of holding elections in more or less normal conditions in at least some parts of Bujumbura Rural.

The biggest unknown, which could have a destructive impact on the electoral process, is what might happen in eastern Congo between now and March-April of next year.

(pdf* format - 175 KB)