Burundi 'slides to authoritarian rule'

2012-11-30 12:55
President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza (File, AFP)

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza (File, AFP)

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Bujumbura - Burundi, a small central African nation with a long history of rebellion, unrest and inter-ethnic killings, is sliding into authoritarianism, analysts warn.

The opposition boycotted presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010, and two years later they remain locked out of power.

Today, experts say the ruling CNDD-FDD party - National Council for the Defence of Democracy, Forces for the Defence of Democracy - hold all the "levers" of power.

With upcoming elections due for 2015, the situation puts key achievements at risk including the peace deals that ended over 12 years of bloody civil war, such as the Arusha power sharing agreement, signed in 2000 in neighbouring Tanzania.

The Arusha deal - signed six years before the actual end of civil war that had torn Burundi apart since 1993 - was meant to stem such problems, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) warns.

"Due to the 2010 electoral impasse, the Arusha agreement has been replaced by a de facto one-party system, characterised by the end of dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party, the government’s authoritarian drift and the resumption of political violence," it said in a recent report.

Renewed violence following the election boycott, with the emergence of rebel movements and what the United Nations have said are dozens of extra-judicial executions, have raised fears of a return to large-scale fighting.

"Challenged by armed groups and criticised by civil society, the government has resorted to repression and intimidation," the ICG added in the report, titled "Bye-bye Arusha?".

Splits within Hutus

For 40 years, the history of Burundi was marked by inter-ethnic massacres and rebellion, as the majority Hutu people struggled against Tutsi-dominated rule.

Today, the power is in the hands of Hutu leaders, while recent violence is mostly the result of splits within rival Hutu groups.

There are some causes for optimism: in recent months violence seems to have declined, including the number of extra-judicial executions.

One foreign observer noted that the "pockets of rebellion are not many".

But tensions remain, undermined by a lack of political dialogue, endemic corruption and a declining economy, with inflation this year at 14.7% in an already impoverished country, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Bujumbura's government dismisses criticism, denouncing "a false reading of the reality" which it blames on false reports by the opposition.

Stalled politics and the troubled party system today are due to the "political irresponsibility of the opposition," said the government spoksperson Philippe Nzobonariba.

Analysts and diplomats do not blame the government alone for the political crisis, noting that the fragmented opposition only barely exists, leaving its potential supporters "feeling abandoned", a foreign observer said.

That too has given the ruling CNDD-FDD a free hand, even allowing it to recruit from opposition ranks, and forcing civil society groups to fill the political vacuum.

Target of government

"When there is no political party that can be an alternative, then civil society plays this role, but they are not in office," said Christian Thibon, from the French Institute for Research in Africa.

But increasingly, civil society groups are becoming the target of government, with anti-corruption activists and journalists facing harassment.

Some, such as Swahili correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI) Ruvakuki Hassan and anti-corruption activist Faustin Ndikumana, have been sentenced to long prison terms.

Analysts and the international community have also denounced proposed laws that would threaten the protection of journalists' sources and restrict the right to protest in passed.

But despite such a situation, the 2015 elections are "perhaps not completely settled" the foreign observer added.

"We need the opposition in exile to return, and once home, that they can work," said the ICG's Thierry Vircoulon.

At the same time opposition leader Leonce Ngendakumana, head of the Democratic Alliance for Change (ADC) coalition, argues authorities are seeking to create their tame "own opposition".

Recently, a meeting of the ex-rebel FNL (National Liberation Forces) was authorised - but only of a branch of the group, and not that led by the historic commander Agathon Rwasa.

Yet, shortly after, police broke up a rally of another opposition party.

Read more on:    tutsi  |  hutu  |  burundi  |  east africa
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