BURUNDI: What’s behind the rampant killings as the country heads to 2020 Election?

The government of Burundi’s disregard of human rights and critics leaves little room for the international community to navigate the complex humanitarian situation.

Over this week there are multiple cases of disappearances and killings of perceived opponents for the Government of Burundi. The fighting is thought to be tied to the country’s upcoming election since the violent events were accompanied by the government’s carrying out of 12 executions and 23 arrests. The current government has been accused of using such violence as an excuse to immobilize important figures in opposition parties leading up to the election. Since current President Pierre Nkurunziza has been serving in office for about 15 years, a change in power sparked by his decision not to run again is both surprising and potentially controversial. The main contenders in this upcoming election are expected to be Evariste Ndayishimiye from the current party in power, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD), and Agathon Rwasa of the National Freedom Council (CNL).

Burundian soldiers disperse protesters in Bujumbura. (Photo courtesy:  AP)

The recent violence in Burundi has led actors from many positions and organizations to react and place blame where they see fit. For example, according to Al Jazeera, Pierre Nkurikiye, a spokesman from the police force that responded to the attack in Bujumbura, stated that he believes that the armed group “took advantage of the electoral period” in their efforts to incite trouble in Burundi. Additionally, according to Al Jazeera, Therence Manirambona, a spokesman from the main opposition party CNL, condemned the government for being responsible for the violence in the following statement: “We denounce this harassment orchestrated by the government ahead of the May 2020 elections”. The widespread controversy and uncertainty in Burundi are rooted in the current administration and its use of power over the people of Burundi. Such dominance and unwillingness to relinquish power has greatly influenced politics in the country. After the previous re-election, Mr Nkurunziza displayed this idea of dominance in a statement that described the result as “a victory for all Burundians,” promising that violence would come to his opponents and that they would be “scattered like flour thrown into the air”.

As was previously stated, the government in Burundi has denied that problems caused by past elections exist and plague citizens. This is not a responsible practice. A better response on the government’s part would be to admit that there is a crisis in Burundi even though the admission might reflect badly on a government that allowed such things to happen. The public will undoubtedly respond better to a government that takes responsibility and takes all actions necessary to try and correct past wrongs. The government should also refrain, if the CNL’s suspicion is correct, from employing violence as a tactic to eliminate those who work for or are associated with opposition parties. This harmful practice leads to the deaths of uninvolved citizens and endangers the country and its stability. Additionally, the fact that the former president will not run again should be seen as an opportunity to reform the election process. Efforts should be taken to ensure that this election is free and fair. This will help create a situation in which the people of Burundi have what they want, and can also help prevent the use of violence as a means to make a statement against a corrupt system.

Recent elections in Burundi have been largely turbulent due to the dominance of President Nkurunziza over the past few terms and the violence that has resulted. President Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005, and his win in 2015, which won him his third term in power, resulted in a country wrought with violence and instability. During this time, hundreds of Burundi citizens were killed and about 400,000 people were forced to leave their homes. However, despite this unrest, the government has not acknowledged that these issues exist in Burundi. More recently, even though a new constitutional provision would have made it possible for him to serve yet another term, Nkurunziza’s decision not to run again has come as a surprise to the country and has likely incited some of the violence that has recently plagued Burundi.

In the coming months, it remains to be seen whether the violence in Burundi will continue and whether the current government will attempt to influence the election through attacks on the opposition.

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