Opinion: Pierre Nkurunziza’s succession Dilemma, is it possible to predict what’ll happen in the 2020 elections in Burundi?

With less than a year to elections in Burundi, Pierre Nkuruniziza and his CNDD-FDD Party have not come up with any road map for succession plans nor a strategy for elections scheduled for 2020. Instead, Pierre Nkurunziza has orchestrated a discreet campaign dividing Burundi’s opposition parties into separate wings. He has effectively decapitated the parties by buying off internal factions and forcing out the parties’ established leaders.  Currently, Nkurunziza himself appears implacable to compromise and any form of outside intervention, domestic or foreign, and this could further destabilize the situation.  At the moment, the CNDD-FDD is unable to manage their own house and they are competing interests among the party members to become the flag bearers in 2020 elections. If a critical mass within the CNDD-FDD party were effectively convinced that their long-term interests were best served without Nkurunziza, change might yet come from within.

To avoid the impending decisions reportedly unfavorable to the government of Burundi from regional organizations, Nkurunziza has over the past tried to create tensions and change the focus by ordering the arrest of several retired ex-FAB senior officers and passing decisions that favours his CNDD-FDD with the aim to shield his government from the scrutiny.

Succession Dilemma.

Among the local population in Burundi, Nkurunziza has managed to sell the narrative that he is a God sent new messiah to protect and lead Burundians to the new paradise and he is perceived as a dedicated Born Again Christian who believes that he is president by Divine Will. Despite being at odds with majority of silenced voices with the CNDD-FDD party and majority of senior Army officers especially those hailing from the narrow Imbo- plain in the Cibitoke province, Nkurunziza defines himself by his faith. The situation in Burundi come 2020 elections will be extraordinarily fragile, staunching the violence is urgent ahead of time. Building peace requires long-term vision, especially at the height of the emergency. Any solution must avoid alienating the CNDD-FDD party or the Imbonerakure, or risk unleashing a large scale political crisis. The CNDD-FDD has no apparent successor for leadership.

International anxiety

At an international level, Burundi is also in flux.  At the moment they are no bold and creative peace action. The international community and peace advocates still have some untested options to pull Burundi from the brink, instead of being intimidated by Burundi’s confrontational, inflammatory street demonstrations that the regime uses to silence International community or countries that condemn its activities.

Predicting the unpredictable

The result of all these dynamics from the national-level impasse, to spreading local level conflicts, to increasingly anxious neighbours, is that nobody knows what to expect. It is no longer possible to predict what will happen in Burundi come 2020.

It is imperative to stop the worsening situation that could result from a hardening of opposition and targeted killings of opponents, a loss of control over the Imbonerakure and/or internal division within the armed forces. To do so, the current administration’s excesses must be dramatically curbed. For enduring peace, there is need for urgent negotiated agreement that will need to reflect the multifaceted parties in the conflict, from opposition parties to civil society. The international community and peace advocates still have some untested options to pull Burundi from the brink.  Nkurunziza and his government are aware of their inability to control local conflicts is weak and only rely on Imbonerakure militia.

Infightings within CNDD-FDD

The CNDD-FDD party is widely criticized for widespread corruption, authoritarianism, inequality, intra-party purges and a reliance on violence using imbonerakure youth militia.  The CNDD-FDD relies on coercive authoritarian power.  Currently they are deep seated anonomisity among CNDD-FDD top politicians and senior army officers due to Nkurunziza’s silence to rename the successor and his failure to classify his future plans.  Sources assert that Nkurunziza is indeed the brain behind those infightings and intrigues within the party. Currently it is believed that Nkurunziza favours former CNDD-FDD Secretary General Nyabenda Pascal and the same time playing double games by enticing another camp of people originating in Gitega close his wife.  Those include; Evariste Ndayishimiye, Joseph Butore.  It is true that Pascal Nyabenda who is considered as Nkurunziza heir apparent is not popular among the army and hardcore militaries from the Imbo- plain are unlikely to support him, and this will lead to another scenario were Nkurunziza might appoint an army General who is famous and has the financial power and popularity among the military and political establishment.  With such scenario, it is easier to predict Guillauime Bunyoni. Another option would be to support the already compromised and weakened Agathon Rwasa and continue to rule behind scenes; however such option will likely weaken more the CNDD-FDD party and cause huge damages.

Pascal Nyabenda is seen as someone with extremely limited ties to the international community given his reckless, blatant comments and statements targeting the International community and he is also perceived as a hard core extremist. However, it is with his hard-core loyalty that is likely endeared to Nkurunziza that will likely make him a perfect choice for the outgoing president’s potential political ambitions.

Indeed,  Pierre Nkuruziza’s strategy of fomenting intrigues within his political entourage and kitchen cabinet is a  deliberate move to create a new political class, one that will remain under his control and loyal to him, in case he steps down from the presidency .

For those who follow political developments in Burundi, the last years, were marked by alienation between Nkurunziza and the pillars of his regime. Nkurunziza had created a strong team around him in the second term of his mandate, but for different reasons, these people disappeared. Case examples are the family of Nyamitwe’s and others that died like General Adolphe.

Over the last two years, Nkurunziza was busy creating new leaders mainly of CNDD-FDD politicians who do not have their own electoral base, no international network, no considerable financial means to deploy; and to a wide extent people who are basically indebted to him.

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