The Burundian conflict has yet to unfold, but many are wary of Nkurunziza’s plans for the country in months to come
Nestled between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania resides a stretch of land overpopulated and lacking of major resources; whose recent upheaval of civilian rights has hindered the beginning of the country’s democratic inauguration. Unsurprisingly, there are a slew of countries that fit these criteria, but today we’re talking about Burundi.
One of Africa’s smallest countries, Burundi, whose capital is Bujumbura, has struggled to find it’s footing amongst relatively little opportunity. Their poorly structured economy relies heavily on agriculture and coffee exports while the majority of the population lives in poverty. And like much of Africa, Burundi has had its fair share of civil unrest and occupation.
Achieving sovereignty from Belgium in 1962, the country has since experienced the aftermath of colonialism, struggling with political turmoil and social dichotomies echoing the haunting effects of European rule. The Burundian Civil War, which lasted from 1993 – 2005, illustrated the gravity of their former Belgium occupiers who cleverly antagonized tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu people. This ethnic rift between the two tribes contributed to an estimated 100,000 casualties, and has since left its imprint on present-day Burundi. However, while this story remains eerily similar to so many other countries scattered across the world, Burundi’s current situation demonstrates the government’s excessive use of power and rhetoric to extinguish a people’s movement.
Ten years have passed since ethnic tensions had subsided, but on April 25, 2015 the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy—Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD—FDD) announced current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, would seek a third term in office. Nkurunziza’s candidacy was met with unease as thousands of Burundians took to the streets to protest Nkurunziza’s rule that fringed dangerously on dictatorship. Nkurunziza’s soon-to-be third term openly challenged the two-term limit imposed by Burundi’s constitution. However the ruling party claimed otherwise, suggesting Nkurunziza’s first term be omitted due to parliament elect rather than by the people.
The Supreme Court of Burundi approved the renewal of presidency, disregarding the demonstrations that had taken hold of the capital, Bujumbura. Failing to address the needs and concerns of Burundians, the Supreme Court’s negligence to challenge and restore democratic practices allowed the government to seize all communication outlets via telephone, radio, and social media, even reaching lengths of shutting down educational institutions. Opposition has been met with harsh rhetoric, identifying protesters as terrorists and criticism as terrorism. Consequently, hundreds of Burundians have been detained and killed.
The government’s attempt to end any opposition to the alleged manipulation of the presidential election heightened the fear of many Burundians, causing an estimated 200,000 refugees to seek amnesty elsewhere. Addressing criticisms from anti-Nkurunziza protesters and countries alike, Nkurunziza firmly stated, “They [protesters] will be scattered like flour thrown into the air—as the God of heaven is a witness, the Burundians will be at peace.” His violent tactics used to remove all opposition to the CNDD—FDD has brought to surface an agenda underlined with political extremism sodden with oppression.
The current state of Burundi is still at risk as tensions continue to rise between Nkurunziza’s government crackdown and opposing Burundians. Many people believe another civil war is under way, while others stress the growing hostility between the Hutu and Tutsi is a prelude to genocide. Foreign aid and assistance has yet to be granted since the government resumed control of its media, leading many to ponder the uncertainty of Burundi’s state.