New Burundi opposition leader may not end talks deadlock

Thursday March 9 2017

Opposition leaders, activists and journalists are fleeing Burundi. PHOTO | FILE |

Demonstrators face off against police officers during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza's third term bid. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

By ROBERT MBARAGA

The change of leadership in CNARED — a coalition of Burundian opposition politicians in exile — is likely to do little to convince the Bujumbura government to negotiate a political deal any time soon, analysts say.

The coalition’s executive board meeting in Brussels elected Charles Nditije as its new leader to replace Jean Minani, whose term expired after a nine months stint at the helm.

“With the current state of affairs, I doubt the new CNARED leader can, in his term in office, convince the Burundian government to negotiate,” said political scientist Dr Vénuste Karambizi.

Benjamin Chemouni, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science sees Nditije’s political inclination as another probable obstacle.

“The bargaining power is clearly on the government side. Plus Nditije is the leader of the Union pour le progress national (Uprona), the archenemy of the ruling CNDD-FDD during the war,” said Prof Chemouni.

Mr Nditije, 63, and one of the fiercest opponents of President Pierre Nkurunziza, leads a faction of Uprona, which is not recognised by the Burundian government, while Minani is from Front pour la démocratie du Burundi (Frodebu). The two parties also have factions run by allies of the Bujumbura regime.

CNARED changed leadership at a time the Burundian government remains adamant about negotiating with the coalition, which it links to the failed May 2015 coup.

Bujumbura boycotted the second round of talks held last month, forcing the facilitator, Benjamin Mkapa, to call for an extraordinary summit of the East African Community Heads of State to discuss the way forward.

Some analysts, however, believe there is still a chance.

“The Bujumbura regime is isolated internationally and will have to negotiate with its opponents at some point due to pressure from the international community,” said Aime Muyombano, a political analyst.

Long-tern project

According to analysts, CNARED, which brings together some 30 exiled politicians can only work on a long-term project of strengthening the opposition so that it is able to challenge the government. The new leader has put this at the centre of his priorities.

“The efforts we have to make to strengthen ourselves must not take into account the attitude of the government, which is opposed to our political platform. The idea is to strengthen our activities and show the rest of the world that we are a credible alternative by our vision and the values we defend,” Mr Nditije said just after his election.

But analysts say uniting the opposition around one goal is a challenging task.

“One has to keep in mind that CNARED is an assembly of different people, with different backgrounds, but with big egos. Accommodating them in one structure can be difficult,” said Dr Chemouni.

CNARED already faces internal wrangles regarding the intra-Burundi dialogue, that saw some members quit the coalition.

They are Alice Nzomukunda and Mathias Basabose, leaders of a relatively small party, Alliance Démocratique pour le Renouveau, and Joseph Ntidendereza, a former member of parliament from Frodebu -nyakuri. They followed former president Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, who returned to the country in December last year.