Since the 2010 boycotted elections, Burundi is steadily drifting away from what was initially regarded as a peacemaking model, and violence from both the ruling party and the opposition is threatening stability.
Burundi: Bye-bye Arusha?, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses how the control of the institutions by the ruling party and the boycott of the 2010 elections by the main opposition parties made the power-sharing system defined by the 2000 Arusha agreement irrelevant. This deal was instrumental in ending the decade-long ethnic conflict that ravaged the country and establishing the foundations of a democratic system.
“The Arusha power-sharing agreement has been replaced by a de facto one-party system characterised by the end of dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party, the government’s authoritarian drift and the resumption of political violence”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “Respect for the political minorities and rule of law has been largely ignored since 2010”.
The dust has not yet settled since the 2010 elections. After boycotting the electoral process, the opposition parties formed a coalition (the Democratic Alliance for Change ADC-Ikibiri) and several opposition leaders went into exile. A wave of mutual violence by the ruling party and the opposition ensued, including by armed groups operating in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The ruling party is managing state business and the transitional justice process as it wishes. It is instrumentalising the security services and is preparing constitutional change behind closed doors. Today, the only checks and balances are the media and civil society, but journalists and activists are under threat from government crackdown.
However, there is a window of opportunity. Dialogue was initiated in Switzerland last May, at a meeting hosted by the non-governmental organisation Initiatives of Change with representatives from the opposition, civil society leaders and two members of the ruling party (the National Council for the Defence of Democracy and the Forces for the Defence of Democracy, CNDD-FDD). Continuing dialogue and consolidating peace in Burundi will require mutual concessions by the ruling party and the opposition and appropriate support and pressure by the donors.
To ensure lasting stability, the political actors should resume dialogue, guarantee pluralism for the 2015 elections and support a consensual transitional justice process. International partners, who have a role to play given their significant aid contributions to Burundi, should focus on these issues in their discussions with the government. More specifically, they should support the independent human rights commission, help to protect journalists and civil society activists and promote a security sector reform centred on human rights.
“The government of Burundi needs to initiate quickly inclusive talks as a follow-up to the Switzerland meeting and focus on the return of the opposition leaders, the respect of political freedom, the legal framework for the 2015 elections and the political detainees issue”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director.