Who’s Who in the Burundi Conflict

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Yesterday, April 21, 2016, a Burundi military officer, Col. Emmanuel Buzubona, was suspected to have been targeted by rebel forces against current President Pierre Nkurunziza. Three others, a motorcyclist and two armed gunman, were also killed in the attack.

The current conflict in Burundi arose last year after President Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term. Nkurunziza took power after a decade long civil war, and claimed his time in power from 2005-2010 did not count as a first term since the parliament elected him and not the people. Soon after Nkurunziza announced he was running for a third term, violent protests erupted in the capital city, Bujumbura. To date, 400 people, a combination of security forces and civilians, have been killed in this conflict.

To quiet dissenters, Nkurunziza has made use of his police and security forces. U.S. News reported that hundreds of people have gone missing or have been arrested without warrants. The UN has later come out and stated that some Burundians have been tortured by the police for speaking out against Nkurunziza.

As the conflict has dragged on, rebel factions have amassed on the exterior of the country in hopes of ousting Nkurunziza. Several rebel groups have formed one larger group under the name the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forebu). The group is made up of rebels and former Burundi military personnel and ruling party officials who did not agree with Nkurunziza’s attempt to run for a third term.

Leading Forebu is former Burundi General, Godefroid Niyombare. Niyombare was responsible for leading a failed coup attempt last May, but was never arrested. Niyombare was a former military commander in the rebel group turned political party, National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). He soon became head of the Burundi intelligence service, Services de renseignements burundais, but was dismissed for arguing against Nkurunziza running for a third term.

Possibly joining Niyombare against Nkurunziza is National Liberation Front (FNL), led by Agathon Rwasa. Rwasa stated that, “they would see no option but to go to the streets and pursue a more forceful action were their demands not met.” The FNL, similar to the CNDD-FDD, was a Hutu rebel group in the Burundi civil war turned political party. However, while the FNL and CNDD-FDD are both Hutu, the FNL and CNDD-FDD fought one another up until 2008.

The FNL was turned into a political party in 2008, and in 2013 Rwasa announced he would run for President. It is possible Rwasa sees Forebu as his best chance of removing Nkurunziza from power and placing himself in the Presidency position if they are successful.

Feeling the looming pressure brought on by the opposition, Nkurunziza has made use of the youth wing of the CDNN-FDD, the Imbonerakure. The group is made up of “disarmed fighters from the ruling party’s previous incarnation as a rebel group who never fully demobilized,” primarily young members who needed work. The Imbonerakure has been used by Nkurunziza to harass and, in some instances, attack protestors and dissenters who speak out against his regime.

Since last May 250,000 people have fled Burundi into neighboring countries. As the violence continues, each side continues to arm and prepare for a larger conflict.

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