By Calvin Osiemo
Violence rocked Burundi on Tuesday as citizens went to the polls for the presidential elections. Tension was widespread as gunfire and explosions could be heard for the better part of the day. The incumbent President Pierre Nkurunzinza is seeking a third term in office, a move that has faced criticism from the opposition and other quarters terming it unconstitutional. The violence has left to at least two dead in the capital Bujumbura including a policeman and a civilian.
Gunfire is reported to have begun on Monday night prior to the elections stretching into early Tuesday morning as polling stations were opening. The President’s office termed the latest protests as terrorist acts condemning those who executed the violent actions. Nkurunzinza’s Chief communications advisor Willy Nyamitiwe said the attacks were meant to intimidate voters and keep them away from polling stations.
A high turnout was reported in President Nkurunzinza’s hometown of Ngozi in Northern Burundi where he voted after riding to the polling station on a bicycle. The opposition has since boycotted the elections with Nkurunzinza facing little competition from three minor opposition leaders. Pierre’s four main rivals including Agathon Rwasa have not taken part in the elections but Burundi’s electoral body still kept their names on the ballot paper.
The international community has warned about the current situation in Burundi saying that it might draw the country back into a civil crisis. Thierry Vircoulon from the International Crisis Group has said that the presidential election is obvious with Burundians aware of the outcome which might lead a renewed civil war.
“Despite a facade of pluralism, this is an election with only one candidate, where Burundians already know the outcome,” said Vircoulon.
The U.S. Department of State has joined critics saying the disputed presidential election lacks credibility and will discredit the government.
Despite the government accusing the opposition of causing the violence that was witnessed, the opposition has also accused the government of turning a blind eye and ignoring their opinion by going ahead to conduct the polls, a move termed as dangerous to a nation that was turned around from a civil war in 2006 which left over 300,000 people dead.
“They have refused to save Burundi from sliding into an abyss,” said Jean Minani, a member of the opposition.
“The government has opted to isolate itself and go ahead with pseudo-elections,” said Leonce Ngendakumana.
Doctors without Borders said that at least 1,000 people are crossing into Tanzania on a daily basis under very risky circumstances faced with challenges which include lack of basic needs and social amenities.