Burundi is facing mounting risk of unrest ahead of key elections and African leaders should stop President Pierre Nkurunziza from running for a third term, rights groups warned Tuesday.
Burundi, a small nation in central Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war and its political climate remains fractious ahead of the polls.
“The situation in Burundi is spiralling out of control, with hundreds of civilians killed or disappeared, due to the ongoing political impasse over moves by President Nkurunziza to run for a third term,” said a grouping of civil society organisations from across the continent, who signed under the banner “The AU We Want Coalition.”
“Burundi’s path toward conflict and chaos has been deliberate, and gone unquestioned by the African Union,” said the statement, released ahead of a summit meeting of the leaders of the 54-member AU bloc on Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Evidence that Burundi will revert to atrocities and ethnic violence is glaringly present,” the statement said, and repeated warnings by opposition politicians and critics that claim the government is doing all it can to sideline political challengers ahead of the elections.
Measures include a wave of arrests, harassment and a clampdown on free speech.
Elections in Burundi, slated for May and June, will be discussed at the summit along with more than a dozen other polls expected across Africa this year, many of them considered to be at high risk of possible violence.
“It is critical that the AU acts with urgency, considering that Burundi is at the heart of the fragile Great Lakes region, and conflict in the country could create turmoil across the region,” the statement added.
President Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, is expected to run for a third term in office despite opponents’ claims that a new mandate would violate Burundi’s Constitution.
“This elaborate scheme to alter his term limits is a raw power grab, similar to what was attempted in Burkina Faso,” the statement added, urging the AU to “pressure President Nkurunziza to abide by democratic principles and in particular to refrain from changing the Constitution.”
Two terms in power is often considered enough for any leader.
Presidents and prime ministers seeking a third term can trigger political crisis.
In the French-speaking part of Africa, this has led to unrest and war in the past.