Elections in Burundi: A Radical Shake-up of the Political Landscape

Posted in Africa | 25-Aug-05 | Source: International Crisis Group


Elections have radically transformed Burundi's political landscape. The success of the former CNDD-FDD rebels, including the selection of Pierre Nkurunziza as president on 19 August, gives the party control of all branches of government. Concurrently, the security sector has been profoundly restructured with CNDD-FDD fighters now making up 40 per cent of the army. They provide a safeguard against attempted coups to interrupt the peace process and thus a guarantee that further reforms required under the Arusha agreement for peace and reconciliation will be realised. Nonetheless, the elections are just one, albeit important, step toward a lasting peace.

The political sea change has created risks and dangers, some of which manifested themselves during the electoral process. For the first time since independence, a violent dispute over power among Hutu parties eclipsed the traditional Hutu-Tutsi interethnic conflict, and the elections have left some key political figures with uncertain futures. The following are essential challenges for the CNDD-FDD government to meet:

  • Political participation. One goal of the Arusha process was to devise a power-sharing formula among the parties to the conflict, in particular through creation of ethnic quotas that would give the Tutsi minority an overrepresentation in order to defend its rights and interests. The peace process, however, has weakened the Tutsi parties, with only UPRONA and MRC keeping seats in the official institutions. Most Tutsis now belong to traditionally Hutu parties but it is crucial that CNDD-FDD preserve the spirit of the Arusha agreement by involving the main Tutsi parties in the administration so that one group's success is not perceived as the other's loss. By the same token, CNDD-FDD should also reach out to FRODEBU, the former governing Hutu party, which was a major loser in the elections.
  • Transitional justice. National reconciliation and implementation of the Arusha reforms will depend to a large degree on the will of CNDD-FDD. The government will need to establish judicial mechanisms to judge those responsible for the many abuses and massacres committed during the civil war as well as during previous conflicts.
  • Security. The ongoing war with PALIPEHUTU-FNL must not be forgotten. It is officially one of the priorities for the new authorities, who have in principle agreed to negotiate with that militia. However, the movement is still perceived as a potential competitor for CNDD-FDD. Both may be tempted by more fighting -- the CNDD-FDD in order to eliminate a rival, the FNL to gain leverage for future negotiations. It is essential to promote dialogue between the two groups rather than confrontation.
  • International engagement. Active involvement of local civil society and focused attention of the international community, especially the United Nations mission in Burundi (ONUB), including strong pressure as warranted, is needed to encourage the new authorities to pursue implementation of the Arusha agreement; promotion of good governance based on economic growth, creation of jobs and equitable allocation of wealth; and respect for human rights and promotion of national reconciliation.

Nairobi/Brussels, 25 August 2005

Africa Briefing N°31
25 August 2005