Analysis: Burundi protests - the opposition, security forces and regional implications

Audio 09:59
Photo: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza will not back down on his bid for a third term in office, despite three days of protests. At least five people have died in clashes with police since Sunday when the ruling CNDD-FDD chose him as its candidate for June’s presidential elections. Burundi’s opposition has yet to throw their support behind the protests but they say another term for Nkurunziza would violate the constitution. The Senate has called on the constitutional court to rule on the issue. Some 25,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring Rwanda, seeking refuge.


Looking ahead to June's elections

Yolande Bouka, Burundi expert, Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi:

"In terms of legitimacy and transparency, the ruling party is shooting itself in the foot. Last elections it was mostly the opposition that made a tactical mistake by boycotting the elections. And this time around with the CNDD-FDD it’s creating an environment that will be very difficult for the international community and international observers to say ‘This is a free and fair election’. You’re making it impossible for one of the important pillars of democracy - which is civil society and the press - to push back against potential abuse and question some of the government’s behaviour. That being said, there hasn’t been any similar repression, at the moment, of the political opposition."

Role of the security forces

Christoph Vogel, Great Lakes specialist, University of Zurich:

"For now it seems that especially the police seem to be pretty much in line with the government as we’ve seen in the past couple of days. But, even before, the police have recently always been the favourite strategy of Nkurunziza to crackdown on protests. For the army it’s much more difficult, it’s kind of a patchwork construction in post-war Burundi. It’s mainly made up of CNDD-FDD rebels on the side of the current government but also of the former armed forces in Burundi. There are definitely some fault lines within the army and there are also some tendencies - they might not even want to interfere in the current political struggle. And, as a last point, it’s also important to note that Burundi’s army has also been hailed as a major success of post-war security-sector reform."

Opposition backing the protests?

Yolande Bouka, Burundi expert, Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi:

"One of the main reasons is arguably, [opposition leader Agathon] Rwasa’s decision not to get involved in the protests and I think on his part it’s probably because he’s seen what happened to the MSD [opposition party] and it’s leader following protests last year - mass incarcerations, de facto disqualification from running [in elections], you can’t run when you’re in hiding. So I think, maybe being aware of the legal consequences for him, should he engage in the protests. Now the question is, he hasn’t said anything about other people. So the reason why the FNL [Rwasa's party] or people associated with the organisation have chosen not to enter the protests, maybe because their waiting on his call. Maybe because they’re not ready to enter, there’s a possibility that Rwasa may be negotiating, he’s talked about wanting to negotiate with the ruling party. We’re not quite sure what there is to negotiate at this point."

Regional implications

Christoph Vogel, Great Lakes specialist, University of Zurich:

"The historic ties between Burundi and Rwanda are that strong that basically no major negative development that we’ve seen in post-colonial history happened without the inclusion of the brother or sister country or vice versa. Again Congo is a key factor since it has been unwillingly serving as a rear base for many different Burundian armed actors, in the past CNDD-FDD benefitted from attacks they could launch from Congolese territory during the civil war but more recently also the armed opposition notably FNL who has one splinter faction still maintaining important bases in eastern Congo. But on the other side I’d like to stay a little bit optimistic, also offering a scenario where increasing opposition against Nkurunziza and as it seems, the current stand of the army, that the army doesn’t seem to be really willing to step in in favour of the president, could if things go well also lead to a rather peaceful kind of transition process in the end."

Displaced people

Frederic Ntawukuriryayo, spokesman, Rwanda's Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs:

"The refugees are first of all entering through different entry points, then the ministry of disaster management and refugee affairs has established some transit centres, three transit centres, where refugees are taken from the border to be received there and registered and they’re given basic humanitarian assistance. And then from these transit centres we have now established a camp where big numbers can be hosted. Then refugees are transported from those transit centres to the new refugee camp established in the eastern province. As the days go by, the number of those received on a daily basis is increasing. So actually we are expecting more in the coming days."

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