Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk

Posted in Africa | 30-Nov-06 | Source: International Crisis Group

Nairobi/Brussels, 30 November 2006: Unless the Burundi government reverses its authoritarian course, it risks triggering violent unrest and losing the gains of the peace process.

Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the government’s abuses of power and analyses the institutional weaknesses making them possible. There are few signs of violent opposition as yet, but recent actions, in particular the arrest of leading opposition figures and journalists on questionable grounds, have damaged the country’s political fabric and could hamper implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed with the FNL rebels in September 2006.

“The growing authoritarianism is disturbing after such a promising beginning to the peace process”, says Caty Clement, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “The international community needs to help get things back on track by encouraging Bujumbura to respect the rule of law and open a dialogue with its critics”.

Despite strong progress in the peace process over the past three years, the political situation remains fragile. The new government, led by the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), came to power in September 2005 by winning democratic elections but, there has been marked deterioration in the political climate. The CNDD-FDD has used state institutions – including the security services, state companies and courts – to consolidate its hold, often with scant respect for the rule of law and human rights. The political opposition is too weak and divided to check these abuses.

This winner-takes-all approach will have several negative consequences. First, it will complicate implementation of the ceasefire agreement with the FNL. Secondly, those excluded from economic and political power could be tempted to use force. In a poor country with almost 50,000 demobilised fighters and to which up to 500,000 refugees could return in the next few years, there is plenty of raw material for renewed violence.

The government can defuse the situation by respecting the rule of law, engaging its critics in a constructive dialogue and punishing officials guilty of abuses. Regional allies such as Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, each a key broker of the peace process, must place the same emphasis on human rights and civil liberties as they did on ending the civil war.

The wider international community has, rightly until now, hailed Burundi as a success story. It must rise to the challenge by conditioning aid on improved governance and human rights and remaining engaged even after UN peacekeepers leave in December. The new UN Peacebuilding Commission has a central role to play in all efforts to consolidate the peace.

“Burundi’s achievements of the past several years could be in danger”, says Jason Stearns, Crisis Group Senior Analyst.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601

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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.