January 21, 2019

The Return of Feudalism ? The Underlying Conflict in Burundi


By Jeanne Ongiyo

Just like the constitution of Kenya, the constitution of Burundi dictates that the President is only legible to run for a maximum of two terms whose duration may vary between 2 to 5 years. Pierre Nkurunzinza has been the President of Burundi after assuming power on August 26th 2005 following his victory in the hotly contested elections. Now judging by the fact that that the said President has been in power for well over 10 years with not much change in terms of the country’s development, you would expect that he would peacefully hand over power. It was recently brought to our attention that Pierre Nkurunzinza is seeking a third term in office despite the stipulations of the constitution plus the opposition that his bid to run for a third term has faced since it was announced.

Groups in support of and those against Nkurunzinza’s bid to run for a third term have engaged each other in a long tussle that has seen the destruction of property and demonstrations all around Burundi. Hundreds have lost their lives with the government in conjunction with the Police attacking anyone publicly protesting the move by Nkurunzinza and his team. An attempted coup was planned on May 13th 2015 by General Godefroid Niyombare, a Military General, when the President had left the country shortly with claims that they had been able to oust the outgoing government. However, reports released by the government officials stated that the government had not been overthrown but it was rather an unfortunate event of a failed attempted coup. It is sad to note that the government was seen as fighting the messenger rather than the message being relayed following brutal attacks on journalists and the destruction of their tools of trade to hinder them from covering such events.

Raila Odinga, the Former Prime Minister of Kenya expressed his sentiments in relation to what is happening in Burundi stating that Burundi had missed a historical chance to strengthen its democracy by establishing a tradition of peaceful transfer of power while at the same time urging those in government to respect the views of the citizens. He also pleaded with the regional and international community to respect and support the democratic decisions of the citizens of Burundi by choosing the leader of their own making in a free and fair election. This should perhaps serve as a lesson to the leadership in Burundi as the Former Prime Minister is speaking from first -hand experience of what political conflict and abuse of power spells in a country.

The events that have transpired in Burundi among other African countries begs the question, is this the return of feudalism in Africa? If so, why do we still pride ourselves in being democratic states where everyone has an equal right to voice their opinions and elect leaders of their choice? Such instances where leaders assume power and refuse to hand over when their terms have expired have been a common phenomenon in Africa of late. With the similarities in destruction of property, continued loss of lives as well as impeding consequences on the country’s economy, it is shocking to see how fast African leaders are still willing to lose their heads for the Presidency at the expense of the lives of the citizens they intend to lead once in office.

Not so long ago, Joseph Kabila seemed not to have had enough of power when he too decided to extend his term though he had already surpassed the limit to which a serving President should be in office. He assumed power in 2001 after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila where he served for 5 years and was later officially elected into office for two consecutive terms. This clearly shows that he served for three terms which total up to 15 years.

Change is paramount in the leadership system of any country with the introduction of new ideas by new leaders but the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo were in for a rude awakening as Kabila decided to run for another term. As is the norm in Africa, what cannot be solved amicably must be solved through warfare hence DRC was thrown into a series of wars which tore the country apart with brothers turning against each other in fierce battles both for and against Kabila’s re-election for a third term. Despite his previous election into office stirring waters in DRC and causing great unrest, Kabila turned a deaf ear and even sought to manipulate the constitution to allow him vie for the third time. Discussions are underway with the general elections slated for the year 2016. It is the hope the regional as well as the international community the DRC will reach an amicable solution by then to avert more trouble.

Regional and International bodies are made so that members can not only share matters of common interest but also intervene when a member state is having a problem. Some of these bodies seem to have missed their purpose of being neutral and providing a solution that benefits all in the society by taking sides with the government of a particular group. With the East Africa Community meeting to discuss the way forward in a bid to settle the unrest in Burundi, it is the hope of many that the leaders meeting in Tanzania will come up with a clear road map for Burundi to return to the path of constitutionalism and at the same time categorically issuing a statement that bars President Pierre Nkurunzinza from seeking a third term in office.

Apart from leaders refusing to hand over power, ethnicity has also been a factor that has crept into the political and leadership system alike. Voting has been characterized by choosing your own clansman as opposed to the expected qualities like competence and the ability to actually lead. We tend to choose leaders who bend to our every desires forgetting that once chosen the leader is meant to serve everyone inclusive of those who did not vote. It is events like these that caused the Rwanda Genocide in 1994 and led to the loss of lives plus causes permanent psychological trauma to the victims. Leaders are supposed to be a unifying factor and not an instrument of war. For leaders to achieve this they must follow all the guidelines bestowed upon them and not use their powers to manipulate them in their favour.

Respect for the constitution is key as it is the constitution that offers a template on how a country should be governed effectively. A good leader is one who takes the chance given to him and makes something out of it, something that his successors can look up to and work to develop further. The lives and welfare of the citizens is at the mercy of the leaders. Leaders should respect and take care of the citizens they are leading because at the end of the day…leaders need votes to get into office. Let us forge ahead and eliminate feudalism in Africa.

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