The failed coup staged by Maj. General Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence service head, is one of the many indicators that all is not well in Burundi. Burundi is slowly sinking into an electoral crisis likely to be worse than the failed 2010 elections. More than 100, 000 refugees have fled to neighboring Rwanda, DRC, and Tanzania since the president announced his quest for a third term.
Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza quest for a third term in the 26th June elections has been largely seen to be against the constitution and the Arusha Agreement. Maj. General Niyombare justified the coup by saying that he was acting in the best interest of the Arusha Agreement. The fundamental question is whether it had really disintegrated, and why it is so important to justify a coup. The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement was signed in 2000 effectively ending a long ethnically motivated war in 2005 that claimed over 300, 000 lives. Among its fundamental provisions was the institutionalization of a series of electoral and judicial reforms by creation of an independent electoral commission a fixed two terms for president, vibrant multiple party democracy impartial judicial system to ensure a transitional justice process. It also institutionalized power sharing to cater for the various political and ethnic considerations in Burundi.
The Constitution of Burundi, which is a creation of the Arusha Agreement, captured the demands of the Arusha Agreement and in particular stipulates a two fixed term presidential mandate of five years, an independent electoral body, freedom of the press and to a power sharing between the opposition and the government. It is very sad to note that the ruling elite in Burundi have systematically blocked the implementation of most of the key provisions of the Agreement, for instance; they have staged a superficial opposition de façade to preserve the appearance of institutionalized powering, the Judicial structures are partisan and play to the whims of the executive, lack of independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a weak socio-economic environment are all strategies to reduce the inclusivity of the electoral process and tilt the outcome to the ruling elite. Furthermore, during the electoral campaigns, opposition leaders and supporters have been unable to move freely with serious threats of violence from Nkurunziza’s administration, violating key provisions of the Arusha Agreement.
European and African Unions have suspended their support to the Burundian electoral process until the environment is ripe for free and fair elections and the African Union together with the East African Community have asked for the postponement of elections in Burundi. President Nkurunziza and the ruling elite together with political actors should quickly refer to the Arusha Agreement and ensure that its key provisions are respected and effected. Perhaps a new legal regime that effectively ensures the independence of the INEC, an impartial judicial system, freedom of the media, a real powering sharing agreement, a vibrant opposition and civil society should be put in place as a matter of urgency before meaningful polls are held.
Elections are a celebration of fundamental human rights and more specifically, civil and political rights and as such, should not make Burundians weep, loose lives, property and country as is the case now. Indeed only an all-inclusive dialogue and respect to the key provisions of the Arusha agreement will usher conducive environment for a free, fair and credible electoral process in Burundi. In the end, if these conditions and structures are put in place it would not matter whether Nkurunziza’s name is in the ballot or not. The people of Burundi will decide on governs them through the polls.
Article by: Marcus Antonie
Marcus Antonie works for the Institute for Education in Democracy, Electoral Processes and Institutions of Democracy Program.