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Humanitarian crisis on cards in Burundi, experts warn

Burundian journalists and rights activists often targeted in Burundian crisis
Burundian journalists and rights activists often targeted in Burundian crisis AFP Photo/Landry Nshimiye
Text by: Michel Arseneault
4 min

Up to 250,000 more people in Burundi may need humanitarian assistance in coming months due to violence in their country, experts are warning in a new report. In its latest 'Alert, Early Warning and Readiness Report', the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a forum grouping UN and non-UN agencies, notes that the crisis could have serious humanitarian and military repercussions across the Great Lakes region.


“Due to ongoing threats and intimidation toward opposition supporters and fear among communities of further violence, displacement is likely to continue with most of the displaced people crossing borders into neighbouring countries, particularly Tanzania,” the report reads.

Tanzania already hosts more than 100,000 Burundian refugees and the authors of the report write there is “a 60% likelihood” that between 100,000 and 250,000 more people will need humanitarian assistance in the next six months.

As the crackdown on opposition supporters continues in the Burundian capital – with daily reports of deadly clashes and arrests – there are fears that the killings will spread across the country.

“It is expected that repressive crackdowns will increasingly spread beyond Bujumbura,” the report says.

Observers agree that Burundi risks descending in a downward spiral of violence.

“As we slide closer to civil war -- and as that becomes increasingly more likely -- it’s highly likely that those crackdowns will spread beyond Bujumbura,” said David Taylor, the Burundi-based head of mission of Impunity Watch, an international policy research NGO.

Tensions within military ranks – especially since a failed coup in May and President Pierre Nkurunziza’s relection in July -- could lead to a new coup attempt, the IASC report argues.

The Burundian army’s chief of staff has already been the target of an assassination attempt and there are reports of officers defecting to neighbouring countries.

“The risk of a new coup remains extant as the rift within the armed forces widens,” the IASC report reads. “Nkurunziza called on the country’s army to stay united after the attempted killing of the Chief of Armed Forces, yet it is likely that the rift will persist as crackdowns on dissident soldiers will widen the divide even further.”

The army is still smarting from General Godefroid Niyombare’s attempt to overthrow Nkurunziza when he attended a regional summit in Tanzania in May. But observers caution that it is too early to wager on a new coup.

“I’m sure that in the army many people would dream of that just because the situation is getting worse and worse,” said analyst Chemouni in a phone interview from London. “I wouldn’t be surprised that many in the army are extremely dissatisfied with the situation.”

Whether exiled officers can mobilise youths and funds to launch cross border raids in Burundi remains to be seen. But the discontent appears to be genuine.

“We’re seeing increasing signs of division within the army,” Taylor said in a phone interview. “We saw that even before the failed coup d’État, the most demonstrable sign of that.”

There are concerns that the crisis could draw in neighbouring countries, notably Rwanda. The Burundian regime has accused Kigali of providing logistical support to its opponents and the IASC report speculates that Kigali could send troops to Burundi under the guise of attacking the FDLR, the genocide-era ethnic rebellion that is still active in the Great Lakes region.

“Rwanda could intervene militarily in Burundi under the pretext of hunting down FDLR,” the report notes.

Children are already bearing the brunt of the crisis. The global acute malnutrition rate has more than tripled, increasing from 2.5% in 2014 to 8.3% in August.

Although the Burundi Red Cross is well established, the report adds: “The Government counterpart is not expected to deliver any major humanitarian assistance in a complex emergency context.”

An estimated $39 million is required to prepare and to respond to the humanitarian crisis, it says.

Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011

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