What happens to Burundi if Pierre Nkurunziza secures another term?


In April 2015, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a third term in power. The news rocked the East African country, sparking a civil conflict that’s displaced more than 400,000 Burundians and killed hundreds.

The past three years have dragged Burundi into economic crisis and isolated the country from the international community as the government continues to alienate itself from global authorities and conflict prevention responses. During the early months of this conflict, the world watched as a failed coup d’état turned into violent clashes between government and opposition forces, which then led to targeted assassinations and a string of human rights violations – including rape, torture and murder.

Now, Pierre Nkurunziza is on the march to make constitutional changes that will allow him to run for a fourth term in power during the country’s 2020 presidential election. In 2015, he argued that his first term didn’t count because he was elected by parliament rather than a public vote.

The conflict that ensued suggested many key members of the military and political elite didn’t agree.

Nkurunziza can’t use the same reason again ahead of the country’s next presidential poll. Even by his own counting method, his second term comes to an end in 2020 and the only way to legitimise another election run is to make the necessary legal changes – and his campaign for change has already begun.

For the almost half-a-million Burundians who have fled their homes and the thousands living in fear for there lives, the concern is what will happen to their country if Nkurunziza secures a fourth term in power.

A repeat of the 2015 violence?

If Nkurunziza is successful in his bid to change the constitution and run for a fourth term in power, all eyes will be on the opposition to see what kind of response they make. The risk of renewed clashes similar to those in 2015 can’t be ruled out, of course, but the political landscape in Burundi is very different in 2018.

Nkurunziza has held on to power throughout the Burundi conflict and come out the other side in a stronger position than ever. If there was going to be a repeat of 2015, it would most likely have already happened, the moment Nkurunziza announced his campaign to change the country’s constitution.

Once the changes are made, there’s no legal argument against him running for a fourth term.

On December 12, the president sent a warning shot to any opposition figures who might get in the way of his campaign.

“We take this opportunity to warn those who would attempt to obstruct or disrupt this activity in deeds or words,” he said. “They should know that it’s a red line that should not be overstepped. I call on the authorities from bottom to the top to be vigilant and get ready to bring these people before justice.”

It seems even speaking out against the president’s plans to consolidate power equates to putting your freedom – or your life – on the line.

A preview of Nkurunziza’s fourth term

As Burundi’s conflict has progressed over the last few years, we’ve been given a preview of what to expect under a fourth Nkurunziza term. The armed clashes that were almost a daily occurrence in Bujumbura have been replaced with sweeping arrests, forced disappearances and human rights violations.

In April last year, a video circulated online of the ruling party’s youth group marching through the streets, chanting about the rape and murder of political opponents. According to those who have fled Burundi, the chants are an accurate reflection of the youth group’s actions.

Being a known political opponent in Burundi is dangerous. However, it seems the government is now turning against the people who fought for it during the earliest days of the civil conflict – in order to stop them admitting to the human rights violations they committed.

Opposing the government isn’t the only crime you can commit in Burundi’s political crisis it seems. Becoming an inconvenience, despite your previous loyalties, now also appears to be something you pay for with your life.

Will the international community step in?

Throughout the Burundi crisis, the international community has slammed reports of human rights violations. There have been constant attempts to organise a resolution between political opponents and bring the conflict to an end but Burundi has largely responded by isolating itself from the international community and its efforts.

In October last year, Burundi became the first country to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the Hague-based tribunal announced it would open investigations into the events taking place in Burundi since April 2015. Burundi responded by removing itself from the Rome Statute and refusing to cooperate with any investigations that follow.

In 2016, the European Union – Burundi’s largest donor – suspended all aid to the government amid reports of human rights violations, accusing the government of not doing enough to bring the conflict to an end. Burundi shrugged off the decision, insisting it will cope without the support of its largest donor.

The government has also refused to cooperate with the UN’s commission of enquiry on human rights in the country. Meanwhile, Burundi has essentially boycotted the East African Community (EAC) summits since 2015 and rejected the deployment of AU’s African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) peacekeeping force.

Burundi’s self-isolation makes it incredibly difficult for regional and international bodies to offer support, let alone any kind of intervention – whatever shape that could realistically come in. Whatever the international community is offering, Burundi isn’t interested. Whatever it threatens to take away, Burundi doesn’t seem to care.

The world watches on

At this stage, it’s hard to see what kind of influence the international community can have over events in Burundi. The closer it tries to get, the further Burundi steps away and each step takes Nkurunziza closer to consolidating his power beyond 2020. There’s a sinister sense of inevitability about Burundi’s constitutional changes and the Nkurunziza election win they would pave the way for.

As Burundi’s political crisis enters its third year, it’s difficult to see anything other than a fourth term for Nkurunziza and more of the same for Burundi.

Featured image: By Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org)/Eric Miller, mailto:emiller@iafrica.com emiller@iafrica.com) – Pierre Nkurunziza – World Economic Forum on Africa 2008, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5685472

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.