In less than a year Burundi will hold its first elections since the 2015 political crisis that was triggered by Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. Almost five years after the start of the crisis, Burundi is still stuck in a political impasse with strong authoritarian undertones and with little hope of conducting free and fair elections. The current situation in Burundi is characterized by forced refugee return; repression of the opposition; and implosion of the ruling party CNDD-FDD. Given the tense climate and the limited space available to foreign actors, external actors should scale down expectations for democratic elections.
Burundi’s spiraling crisis also extends to the military, whose reform was once seen as a success of the Arusha Accords. A major purge of members of the military who were perceived to oppose Nkurunziza’s efforts to sidestep constitutional term limits was undertaken, causing waves of defections, tit-for-tat assassinations, and even shootings inside military facilities. Many defectors have joined rebel groups battling government forces and others are now languishing in jail.
In a bid to further enforce loyalty within the ranks, ex-civil war commanders now dominate the CNDD/FDD’s supreme body, the Council of Elders, as well as the National Security Council and defense ministry. These party loyalists, many of them under EU, UN, and U.S. sanctions, do not hold formal positions in the civil service but operate parallel chains of command bypassing the defense ministry, and running into the presidency. Through them, instructions are issued to the Imbonerakure, and other parts of the state’s coercive machinery such as the intelligence and police, according to UN reports. This overt politicization has been reinforced by amendments that rename the army, reorganize its command, and create a reserve force that many fears could incorporate the Imbonerakure. The imbonerakure militia is now central to Burundi’s government security operations and implicated in serious human rights violations according to AU and UN investigators.
What to Expect Next
Burundi’s reconfigured governing landscape reinforces the repression that has triggered the political crisis that has persisted since April 2015, when Nkurunziza announced that he would pursue a third term. Language in the constitution that forbade restrictions on the bill of rights was removed, police searches without a warrant are now permitted by law, and clauses providing for the surrender of persons indicted for crimes against humanity have been removed.
Today more Burundian refugees continue to seek refuge in DRC and most are the supporters of CNL who are targeted by the Imbonerakure militia and local authorities. With such tendencies coupled with the infightings in CNDD-FDD, Burundi future is on the brink.