US opposes Nkurunziza third term in this year’s poll, says it is a recipe for chaos in Burundi

Saturday January 03 2015

The United States is opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza running for a third term this year.

In a telephone conversation, Russel Feingold, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, told The EastAfrican that the Burundi government must ensure presidential elections are consistent with the 2000 Arusha Accord, which has been the source of peace and stability in the country for the past decade.

Mr Feingold said while some constitutional provisions were open to interpretation, the accord is clear that no president should govern for more than two terms.

“The goal here is not to get into a legal debate but to get to the bottom line — which is that stability and good governance will affect international perceptions and investor confidence in Burundi, and that the spirit of the Arusha Accord needs to be followed in order to have that kind of benefit for Burundi,” said Mr Feingold.

“We still think the Arusha Accord remains key to maintaining a still fragile stability in Burundi in the near term.”

Burundi watchers say the US position could also be a tacit warning to leaders in the Great Lakes with similar designs, especially DRC’s Joseph Kabila.


Dr Youland Bouka, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in charge of Great Lakes Region and Central Africa, said the US would prefer that African leaders not change their constitutions to remain in power.

Dr Bouka added that the US, as one of the guarantors of the Arusha Accord and an important bilateral donor, is in a very good position to dissuade President Nkurunziza from seeking a third term.

The US is Burundi’s largest bilateral donor, with a $80 million annual budget for programmes that help to fight HIV/Aids, malaria, maternal mortality and malnutrition.

The two countries also have defence co-operation programmes — including regional security arrangement through the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), in which Burundi is a key troop-contributing country.

The revelation comes as the region prepares for a military offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Rwandan rebels exiled in eastern DRC, for failing to disarm by the January 2 deadline.

READ: US now urges UN to attack FDLR rebels

While President Nkurunziza has not categorically stated that he will contest in the May election, he hinted in an interview with the BBC in June that he may seek a third term.

For most of last year, top officials of his ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party have been pushing him to run again, but the opposition argues that such a move could spark off civil war.

READ: Burundi tense on Nkurunziza third term push

Last month, the leader said he had left the decision to his party but tellingly added that it will be guided by the country’s laws. The party will deliberate on the matter at its congress this month.

Article 96 of the Burundi Constitution says: “The president is directly elected by universal suffrage for one term of five years and can seek re-election once to serve for five years.”

President Nkurunziza was elected by parliament in 2005 and through universal suffrage in 2010. His critics say he is manipulating a loophole in the supreme law to run again without taking into consideration the spirit of the Arusha Accord and the risk of instability.

On Tuesday, fighting in Cibitoke Province between government forces and an armed group that officials said crossed from DRC left 18 people dead. Cibitoke Governor Anselme Nsabimana said a soldier was among those killed.

READ: 35 killed in Burundi clashes with rebel group: army

Cibitoke is one of the provinces sharing the border with Congo, which are prone to such attacks.

“We saw more than a hundred armed men in military uniform moving around the area at around 5am,” said a resident.