Burundi: Restarting Political Dialogue
Africa Briefing N°53
19 August 2008
Despite progress in implementing a peace agreement with the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People - National Forces of Liberation (Palipehutu-FNL), the last active rebel movement, Burundi is going through a dangerous political crisis which could compromise the holding of free and fair elections in 2010 and the country's future stability. The return of rebel leader Agathon Rwasa to Bujumbura and the 11 June 2008 signing of the Magaliesburg agreement are important steps forward in the Burundian peace process. However, FNL disarmament has barely started and the issue of the integration of former rebels into state institutions and security forces remains unresolved. In this context, the absence of dialogue between the government and the main opposition parties is harmful to the country's governance. Local political actors and international partners of Burundi urgently need to assess these risks and revive the national political dialogue.
The current political deadlock stems from the crisis within the leadership of the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) in early 2007 and from President Nkurunziza's refusal to conclude a power-sharing agreement with the leaders of the Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu) and Union for National Progress (Uprona). Following Hussein Radjabu's removal from the head of the CNDD-FDD, the party split and the faction loyal to President Nkurunziza lost its majority in the National Assembly.
The November 2007 cabinet reshuffle that brought members of Frodebu and Uprona into the government failed to provide a lasting solution to the crisis. In the National Assembly, tensions between political parties have heightened amid mounting insecurity in the capital, grenade attacks against opposition members of parliament (MPs) and continuing recruitment by the Palipehutu-FNL.
In early June 2008, the CNDD-FDD pressured the Constitutional Court to authorise the replacement of 22 dissident MPs with loyal supporters of the party's leadership. The Court ruled favourably on this request on 5 June and the CNDD-FDD and its allies regained a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. However, this move will not resolve the crisis in the long term. On the contrary, it illustrates a clear desire to limit all checks on its power, including the media as well as human rights and anti-corruption non-governmental organisations. This authoritarian ambition could lead to a radicalisation of opposition parties which could be tempted to look for alliances with the Palipehutu-FNL.
Participation of the Palipehutu-FNL in future elections could lead to a re-introduction of ethnic dimensions to the political discourse while unity within defence and security bodies remains fragile and the authority of the fundamental law and Constitutional Court is damaged. In this context, lack of an internal political dialogue runs the risk of a premature loss of credibility and legitimacy for these polls, leading to violent clashes during the electoral campaign. All parties must promote, in a consensual way, constitutional reforms necessary to the peace process and to set up an adequate framework for the organisation of free, credible and democratic elections in 2010.
For that purpose, it is essential that Burundi's regional partners and donors pressure all political parties to:
- Resume a constructive internal political dialogue oriented towards compromise. CNDD-FDD, Frodebu and Uprona have reach a political agreement on: 1) the resolution of conflicts of competence between ministers and vice-ministers; 2) the representation of Frodebu and Uprona within the administration and in senior civil service and semi-public positions; and 3) a minimal program of economic, fiscal and legislative reforms to be launched urgently so as to finally bring peace dividends to the population. Pressures, intimidation attempts and judiciary harassment against media and civil society must stop and individual and public freedoms must be guaranteed.
- Create a national reflection committee on institutional reforms. The committee's membership should reflect all political sensitivities and ethno-regional realities. It should consider the view of all stakeholders as well as national and international experts to prepare a set of proposals in advance of a possible review of the fundamental law.
- Open political consultations to reach a national consensus on the make-up of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), the review of the electoral code and the drafting of a code of good conduct between political parties and security forces.
- Create the office of the Ombudsman, as envisioned in the Arusha Accords and the Constitution. The Ombudsman should be led by a Burundian person chosen by consensus and with irreproachable moral authority. The office should gather citizens' complaints against government agents and could see its mandate expanded to arbitration and securing compromises in the case of a political crisis within the institutions.
- Open a consultation with Burundi's international partners and the United Nations on the possibilities of international support for organisation of elections and the presence of international police units, alongside local security forces, as well as for the acceleration of the national intelligence services reform supported by the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB). Moreover, Burundi's financial partners and guarantors for the peace process could set up a contact group in order to better coordinate international action vis-à-vis the government.
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