Expect Violence in Burundi After President’s Decision to Seek Reelection

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Burundi’s ruling political party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), announced Thursday that Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza will declare his candidacy for reelection. This controversial move will increase political tensions in the country and likely lead to violence in the streets between government forces and opposition protesters.

The Burundian presidency is limited to two five-year terms by the country’s constitution and the Arusha Peace Agreement, which ended a brutal, twelve-year civil war in 2005 that engulfed the country. Nkurunziza became president at the end of the civil war, and his supporters say his first term does not count towards the ten-year total because he was picked to govern rather than elected. Opponents assert seeking reelection is unconstitutional and an abuse of power.

Violence broke out between police and opposition protesters last week, and the threat of such chaos has led over 12,000 Burundians to flee the country in less than a month.

CNDD-FDD’s announcement was supposed to come Saturday at a party congress, and an early declaration indicates that, given how unpopular his bid for reelection is throughout the country, Nkurunziza, his party, and Burundian security forces are ready to do whatever is necessary to ensure he remains in power.

To this last point, a senior party official asserted, “the choice [for a candidate] has already been made” and that “whatever happens, it will be President Nkurunziza, regardless of the consequences.” Burundi security and military officials have made clear they will use force as needed to stop dissenters to maintain peace.

The implications from CNDD-FDD’s decision are clear from prominent rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who believes that Nkurunziza seeking a third term “will be opening doors for another war” and that “this will be a coup d’état against the constitution, against the Arusha Peace Agreement.”

The United Nations Security Council is watching the situation closely and has shown a willingness to intervene to some degree to stabilize the situation. There is a U.N. military base near Burundi off of Lake Tanganyika with ample supplies for any actions taken.

Political conflict in Burundi comes amidst similar tensions in other African states. In Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, President Blaise Compaore had been in power for 27 years, and his national assembly examined a proposal to alter the current two-term limit to allow him to run again in 2015, leading to an uprising. Compaore left power peacefully, but it is unclear if the new leadership will trend towards authoritarianism.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), opposition parties viewed a realignment of military leadership based on loyalty to President Joseph Kabila as part of a possible shift from democratic term limits. The government rejects the notion, but term limits could be an issue in DRC closer to elections.

Furthermore, President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, who is running for a third term unhindered by term limits, is up for reelection this Saturday to continue his family’s 48 year rule over the country. While tensions are not dire, opposition protesters argued last year for a two-term limit on the presidency. The effort failed, but Togo illustrates a growing focus among African populations on term limits to bring greater political freedom to the continent.

Potential violence in Burundi is concerning and must be watched, especially because instability and violence in Africa can easily spread to other countries, like in the Middle East. The aforementioned examples outside of Burundi are a few environments that could be susceptible to such dissemination.

It is encouraging that several African populaces appear eager to institute or maintain term limits to mitigate abuses of power, but harsh government responses – like what may be seen in Burundi – will lead to more conflict. Some African democracies are at a decision point where either freedom or corruption will triumph, the latter likely leading to conflict. It is unclear what the future holds, but one should unfortunately expect violence in Burundi after CNDD-FDD’s decision to support Nkurunziza for a third term.

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