Amid uncertainties over Burundi’s commitment to conduct credible elections in May 2020, President Pierre Nkurunziza is selling an unlikely glowing legacy to have his administration reintegrated into the international community.
Isolated by the European Union, the US and EA neighbours over his successful bid for a controversial third term in 2015, President Nkurunziza has presided over a government so short of funds that civil servants had to ‘’donate’’ their salaries to fund the upcoming council, legislative and presidential elections.
His pledge that he will not vie in 2020—repeated by Burundi’s representative in the UN Security Council last week—has come with urgent pleas for development and humanitarian support as the government targets self-financial reliance “soon”.
In a report to the Security Council on October 31, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that President Nkurunziza considered that the three main objectives of his tenure—peace, security and justice for all; good governance and democracy; and inclusive and sustainable development—had been met.
He said that Burundi would soon be financially independent and, consequently, become self-sufficient.
He also recalled events preceding the 2015 elections and asserted that there were still a few Burundians who were trying to destabilise the country.
They would, however, fail, as “Burundians will not want to be enslaved”, Mr Guterres said in reference to an August 20 statement from the president.
President Nkurunziza’s decision not to contest for another term despite the 2018 Constitution allowing him to do so is one of the “positive gestures” the government is banking on to persuade the international community that the next election will be transparent, free and fair, and that Burundi should be removed from the UN watch, which it considers an affront on its sovereignty and an act of interference in its internal affairs.
Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ezechiel Nibigira told the UN General Assembly on September 30 that the promotion of freedom of expression and allowing new political parties to exist, reintegration of refugees and political exiles, and the release of more than 2,000 prisoners since the beginning of the year, were among the country’s achievements.
Burundi has won backing from Russia and France, which routinely vote in favour of the wishes of African governments, even as the other 13 members of the Security Council advocate caution in view of reported intolerance by the government vigilante group Imbonerakure, and restriction of democratic space for opponents of the ruling CNDD-FDD political parties.
President Nkurunziza’s pledge not to contest will be put to the test when CNDD-FDD selects its candidate early next year.
When President Nkurunziza first announced that he would not run again, he said the constitution was not changed with him in mind but for the stability of the country.
In UN Council discussions, also informed by an oral submission by the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Burundi on October 24, members said the country should not be removed from the UN watch given its fragile situation.
“The path towards the upcoming elections is still long, given that instances of violence continue to mar the pre‑electoral period from time to time and arbitrary arrests targeting members of CNL.
“That period must not be marked by hate speech, and the rights of the media cannot be constrained,” said Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, the permanent representative of Belgium to the UN.
The commission of inquiry said extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, dehumanising treatment and sexual violence have continued since May 2018, and had taken a political dimension.
“These have become increasingly embedded in the preparation of the 2020 elections, namely the elections of the president, parliamentarians and senators, as well as communal and colline councillors,” the commission said. It said political opponents, their members and sympathisers were targeted for not joining or supporting CNDD-FDD, President Nkurunziza and the Imbonerakure youth wing.
“Journalists and human rights defenders also continued to be arbitrarily arrested and detained, intimidated, harassed or subjected to ill-treatment to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate activities,” the commission said.
Albert Shingiro, the Burundi representative to the UN, said his country had made progress from the 2015 unrest and was now “calm, stable and definitively reconciled” as it prepared for the 2020 elections.
“A timetable is in place and the Kayanza Road Map adopted, and the independent electoral commission is operational with no outside financing,” he said.
Mr Shingiro promised free, fair and transparent elections in response to calls from 120 member states of the Non-Aligned Movement at their meeting in Azerbaijan.
He repeated calls for resources from the international community to address poverty, and said perpetrators of human right abuses were increasingly being brought to book.
Last month, the court handed life sentences to criminals who killed members of the CNL party on August 18.
“Now is the time to rebuild trust,” Mr Shingiro said, saying Burundi was ready to engage with the regional and international community.