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  • on 30.04.2015
  • at 03:06 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Analysis: Burundi’s fragile peace hangs in the balance 0

These are troubled times in Burundi, where the president is determined to hang on to power – even if it violates the decade-old peace agreement that ended the country’s devastating civil war. And once he breaks that agreement, what’s left to keep the peace? By Simon Allison.

Making peace is an imperfect, messy business, constructed on equal parts hope, good faith and good fortune. In Burundi, where the South African-brokered peace has held for just over a decade, the fragility of these foundations is only now becoming apparent.

The problem lies, as it so often does, at the very top. President Pierre Nkurunziza – the avocado planter-in-chief who loves football but hates jogging – is nearing the end of his second term in office. He has ruled Burundi for the entirety of its post-civil war history, and he’s not quite ready to give up yet. Last week, the ruling party, CNDD-FDD, confirmed that Nkurunziza would be its candidate in the presidential election scheduled for later this year.

This was not a universally popular decision. Quite the opposite, in fact. Opposition parties and civil society organisations have accused Nkurunziza of violating Burundi’s constitution, which limits presidents to just two terms, and he’s been on the receiving end of stinging criticism from international rights groups and even the US state department. “Burundi is losing an historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy by establishing a tradition of peaceful democratic transition,” said a US spokesperson.

Following the announcement of Nkurunziza’s candidacy, thousands of people in the capital Bujumbura took to the streets to register their displeasure. Riot police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, and by arresting 157 protestors, including prominent rights activists. At least six people were killed in the violence.

The ruling party described the protests as “nothing short of rebellion”, and maintain that Nkurunziza is perfectly entitled to stand for a third term. The crux of the argument in Nkurunziza’s favour is that his first term doesn’t really count because he wasselected by parliament rather than elected by the people.

Unfortunately for Nkurunziza’s many critics, this is not without some legal substance. Burundi’s 2005 constitution states very clearly that “the President of the Republic is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years renewable one time”. Nkurunziza has only been elected by universal direct suffrage once, in 2010.

In response, the opposition wave copies of the Arusha Agreement – the peace deal which ended Burundi’s 12-year civil war (the civil war that killed more than 300,000 people). Article 7.2 of the Arusha Agreement is unambiguous: “No one may serve more than two presidential terms,” it states.

Continue reading on the Daily Maverick

by Simon Allison

Photo Credit: Flickr/Igor Rugwiza

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