Tag Archives: Burundi

Burundi – Will the election postponement fix the crisis?

At the conclusion of an emergency summit on Burundi held in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, heads of state from the East African Community (EAC) called on the government of Burundi to postpone legislative and presidential polls by at least a month and a half. The postponement would allow the EAC under the leadership of its chairperson, President Kikwete of Tanzania, to “consult with all stakeholders in Burundi on the way forward.” The EAC leaders also called for the “urgent disarmament of all youth groups allied to political parties,” an indirect reference to the Imbonerakure, the youth branch of the ruling CNDD-FDD party. An internal communication from the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB) to UN headquarters in New York alleges a distribution of weapons to the Imbonerakure, an allegation denied by the government.

The government of Burundi quickly “welcomed” the recommended election postponement. The electoral calendar, with parliamentary and local elections scheduled to take place on June 5th, followed by presidential polls on June 26th and senate elections on July 17th is thus likely to slide. The revised electoral calendar should be issued by June 5th.

Burundi has seen extensive turmoil – including an attempted coup d’etat – since April 25th, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was running for reelection for a third term. According to Art. 96 of the 2005 constitution, “The President of the Republic is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years renewable one time.” The CNDD-FDD argues Nkurunziza’s first term doesn’t count as he was indirectly elected by parliament. His opponents, in turn, point to the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement which brought the civil war started in 1993 to an end; the agreement states unambiguously in its Art. 7, section 3 that “No one may serve more than two presidential terms.” On May 5, 2015 the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the presidential camp’s interpretation of the constitution and allowed Nkurunziza’s candidature to go forward, but only after the vice-president of the Court had fled the country citing “death threats.”

The EAC heads of state – among whom Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who has been president for nearly 30 years – did not address the third mandate issue. The position of the EAC leaders was uncharitably labeled as a “non-decision” by a diplomat present in Dar es Salaam. Following the summit, a spokesperson for the Burundian government indicated that the government considered the debate on the third mandate “closed.” Opponents of a third term have, on the other hand, called for demonstrations to resume today, Tuesday June 2nd. More than 30 people have already been killed during over a month of demonstrations, see daily updated map with incident reports verified by UK-based NGO Peace Direct.

Will the election delay give peaceful elections a chance? Burundi has been backsliding for a while. Fortunately, the crisis is at heart political, not driven by ethnic divisions. Fixing the crisis requires a negotiated solution to the key issue dividing the CNDD-FDD and opposition groups: President Nkurunziza’s candidature. There are two possible solutions: either the opposition accepts his standing, or he withdraws from the race.

Without a negotiated agreement, it is difficult to see how peaceful and credible elections can take place before August 27, 2015, the end date of Nkurunziza’s mandate. Major donors have suspended their funding for elections, the EU and Burundian civil society have adjourned their election observation efforts, and two out of five members of the independent election commission (CENI) have resigned and left the country due to the prevailing security and political conditions. The CENI thus lacks the required quorum to appoint new leadership for many of its regional and local branches after the Catholic Church withdrew its priests from those positions. Access to independent media also remains a challenge after the destruction of several private radio stations.

Burundi has come very far since 2000, succeeding in blurring ethnic divisions between Hutu and Tutsis and securing peace for over a decade. A peaceful and credible presidential poll would cement progress achieved and avoid the risk of the political crisis reawakening old demons. The ICC is watching closely.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Burundi backsliding as 2015 presidential poll approaches

Previously hailed for its success in bringing peace and stability to the country, Burundi’s power-sharing arrangement is rapidly unraveling. The 2005 constitution that brought an end to the 1993 civil war between Hutus and Tutsis, instituted a complex set of power-sharing provisions, including a stipulation that the president of the republic shall be assisted by two vice-presidents belonging to different ethnic groups and parties (art. 124). The constitution also mandates that parties must not be established exclusively on ethnic or regional bases.

By some accounts, these power-sharing arrangements have been successful to the extent that: “Today, political competition in Burundi no longer coincides with ethnic cleavages. Furthermore, the dominant party CNDD-FDD, while rooted in a Hutu rebel movement, is no longer perceived as an exclusive Hutu party. In fact, most Tutsi members of parliament are members of the CNDD-FDD and many presidential advisors are Tutsi” (Vandeginste, 2009 p. 75).

The power-sharing provisions have not succeeded, however, in creating a fertile ground for consolidating democratic practices. The opposition boycott of the 2010 legislative and presidential elections following allegations of fraud in local elections earlier in the year, left the political system dominated by a single party, the CNDD-FDD. Leaders of Frodebu (a Hutu-led party) and FNL (ex Tutsi-rebel movement) went into exile as politically-motivated violence mounted.

Uprona (a Tutsi-led party) participated until recently in government, occupying the position of first vice-president. However,  the power-sharing arrangement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords collapsed as Uprona joined the opposition in February of this year, protesting the apparent intention of President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term. Nkurunziza sought to maintain constitutional appearances by appointing a new vice-president and three ministers from a smaller wing within Uprona – a move immediately rejected by Uprona leadership.

The argument advanced by the CNDD-FDD justifying a third term for Nkurunziza is that “The constitution provides for two terms by universal suffrage. The first term was not a direct vote [Nkurunziza was appointed by parliament in 2005]. It’s a matter of interpretation of the constitution.” 

In addition to the tensions around another term for Nkurunziza, the opposition and Burundian civil society organizations worry about the government’s unilateral push for constitutional amendments that would do away with many of the power-sharing provisions of the 2005 constitution, including: substituting a simple majority vote for the current two thirds majority requirement in parliament; replacing the two vice-presidents with a largely ceremonial vice-president and a powerful prime minister that does not have to be from a different ethnic group than the president; and raising the threshold for party representation in parliament from 2% to 5% of the votes cast.

With the June 2015 presidential poll looming large on the horizon as a potential trigger for further violence, the UN Security Council recently voted to extend the UN political mission in Burundi, despite the government’s initial opposition.

So while power-sharing may have succeeded at least partially in blurring ethnic divisions in Burundi, as seen by the FNL and Frodebu joining forces in opposition, it clearly has not effectively served to strengthen democratic institutions and practices.