November 24, 2017

Burundi: The Crisis Thus Far

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By Derrick Kiplagat

The current political woes in Burundi have unleashed fear amongst citizens. More than 144,000 people have fled to neighboring countries in the past three months following incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement of his desire to run for a third Presidential term.

The announcement set the streets alive with protestors from the opposition engaging police in running battles and riots, chaos that has brought about over 70 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The turmoil worsened after army commander Godefroid Niyombare announced on local radio that he had overthrown the country’s President Nkurunziza in May.

The country, being one of the poorest in the world, has suffered economically and the living conditions of nationals have deteriorated. The wounds caused by the civil war that ravaged the country only 10 years ago are slowly being re-opened.

After Monday’s elections, fear and uncertainty has gripped a majority of Burundians. The unrest has brought about Africa’s worst refugee crisis. At least 27,000 are now living in the United Nations-Administered camp near the town of Mahama, on the border with Tanzania.

In 1993, Burundi ushered in its first ever democratically elected President, Melchior Ndadaye who was assassinated after spending 100 days in office. The assassination sparked off a spree of killing between the country’s two main ethnic groups; the Hutu and the Tutsi and as many as 300,000 people were killed in the 12 years of bloodshed that followed.

The civil war between the two ethnic groups is among the factors that led to the 1994 genocide in the neighboring Rwanda where Hutus massacred over 500,000 Tutsis over a period of 100 days.

To Burundians, Africa and the whole world at large Nkurunziza’s August 2005 swearing in held the promise of peace and stability. However, in recent years doubts have grown about the President’s intentions. The announcement by the ruling party on April 25th 2015 that Nkurunziza would stand for a third term was the last straw for the political opposition.

Riots erupted in the streets as a result. Despite mounting calls from Heads of States in Africa, Europe, and the United States of America for the Nkurunziza administration to defuse tension, officials have forged ahead with the disputed plans for elections.

On Monday, the government held parliamentary and local elections, a vote that international monitors refused to observe. International agencies such as the UN and the AU have decried the move and the opposition has sought to boycott the elections. With the Presidential polls set for the 15th of this month followed by the Senatorial elections on 24th, what’s the fate of Burundi?

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