27.04.2015. In May and June 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections are being held in Burundi, a country where a civil war took place from 1994 to 2005. The upcoming vote is causing growing tensions between the two dominant ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu. Their fragile coexistence is at risk for two main reasons – the growing authoritarianism of the current president Nkurunziza and the radicalisation of the youth wing of the ruling party.
Political instability in the country and growing repression
Ethnic division between the Tutsi and the Hutu are very strong reflected in the politics of Burundi. This is mostly a consequence of Belgian colonial rule over the country in which only the Tutsi had access to political power. This situation led to civil war in 1994, which was ended by the Arusha peace Accord in 2005.
In the first post-war elections a predominantly Hutu political party CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy) won and its chairman Pierre Nkurunziza was elected as the president of the country. CNDD-FDD won also the elections in 2010 but this was mostly thanks to the boycott of the elections by the opposition parties. The support for the party and president has been decreasing particularly because of worsening economic conditions and growing corruption. And proportionally with the decreasing support repression against the opponents of the party grows.
In a notable incident from March 2014 22 members of the opposition party MSD (The Movement of for Solidarity and Development) were accused that their morning jogging was a cover for an illegal demonstration. In another case from 2014, when an opposition party UPRONA (Union for National Progress) split into two factions after the long-lasting internal dispute, the government of Burundi recognized only one of them – the one not critical of government policies – while suspending the existence of the second.
Planed change of the constitution
For peace in the country the attempts to change the status quo of the division of political power defined by the peace treaty are particularly dangerous. The Arusha peace treaty established a clear division of political power between the dominant ethnic groups which was included also in the country’s constitution. According to the constitution the government and the parliament have to consist of 40% of Tutsi, 60% of Hutu and at least 30% of women. The government has to name two deputy Prime ministers – one Hutu and one Tutsi. A planned constitutional change in 2014 which sought to cancel the rule of two deputy prime ministers has caused the biggest political crisis in the country since the civil war.
Even though the constitutional change was not approved by the parliament it implies the dissatisfaction of the ruling party with the division of political power in the country. According to power sharing theories of researchers such as Arend Lijphart, Mathew Hoodie or Caroline Hartzell a strict division of power could reinforce the division of a country in long term perspective; however it has to be respected immediately after the conflict. Attempts to violate the agreed balance can lead to the growth of the distrust and suspicion between the ethnic groups in Burundian society.
Imbonerakure – the radical wing of the ruling party
The most important threat to peace in the country are the activities of the youth wing of the ruling party called Imbonerakure. A UN report from 2014 stated that the youth wing with approximately one thousand members has blackmailed the members of the opposition parties and disrupted the campaign meeting before the elections. The report also stressed that the members of CNDD-FDD provide the youth with machetes, arms and uniforms. Very similar information can be found also in a report of Human Rights Watch from 2015.
Information about the arming of the youth wing of CNDD-FDD was publicized also by the human rights activist and the director of Burundi’s Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. After he published the information in a radio programme, he was arrested and sentenced to four months in jail. President Nkurinziza and the ruling party strictly refuse any accusations.
Presidential and parliamentary elections in Burundi in May and June this year can change the political and security situation in the country. If the current ruling party and the president win the elections, the party could have the tendency to consolidate power in its hands and shift the country to an autocratic regime. And if Nkurunziza loses the attitude and the behaviour of the young radical wing of the party is questionable.