Burundi's Nkurunziza wins a predicted third term; now the hard part begins, says analyst

Burundi’s leadership may well choose to follow the path of the isolationist, paranoid and authoritarian Eritrea.

BURUNDIAN President Pierre Nkurunziza has won a predicted but controversial third consecutive term in office, according to official election results announced Friday.

Nkurunziza won 69.41% of the vote in Tuesday’s vote, handing him an immediate first-round victory, the election commission said. Nkurunziza’s candidacy was denounced as unconstitutional by the opposition and provoked months of protests and an attempted coup in the central African nation.

Although eight candidates were on the ballot paper for the presidential polls, most withdrew from the race, with the closure of most independent media preventing them from campaigning.

Anti-Nkurunziza protests have been violently repressed, leaving at least 100 people dead since late April. Many opponents have also fled—joining an exodus of more than 150,000 ordinary Burundians who fear their country may again be engulfed by widespread violence.

In mid-May, rebel generals attempted to overthrow Nkurunziza in a coup, which failed. They have since launched a rebellion in the north of the country.

In the latest in a string of attacks, four people were wounded in a grenade attack overnight Thursday on the house of an official from Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party.

The government has dismissed criticism of the poll, which the United States, European Union and former colonial power Belgium said lacked credibility.

“Now the hard part starts for Nkurunziza, because Burundi is in a pre-conflict situation,” said Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher with the International Crisis Group (ICG) as the vote ended.

A Burundian analyst and researcher, who asked not to be named, said the president would be starting his third consecutive five-year mandate with a key handicap — his lack of legitimacy. 

“The second is economic and social, because the country is already in a recession. The loss of some aid coupled with a decrease in domestic revenue will be very painful,” said the analyst. “But his biggest challenge will be one of peace and security, given the violence and divisions brought about by his candidacy,” he said. 

“Part of the opposition has radicalised and increasingly thinks he only understands one language, that of violence.” 

Going hardline?  

Faced with these challenges, Nkurunziza must choose between offering a gesture of peace to his frustrated opponents, or taking an even harder line. 

Diplomats say Nkurunziza will be under pressure to offer concessions to the opposition and key donors, and sources from the ruling CNDD-FDD party have signalled a series of conciliatory measures will be taken. 

These could include the formation of a national unity government, the release of demonstrators who were detained during weeks of street protests and the reopening of private radio stations that were shut during the coup attempt. 

“For the short-term, Nkurunziza will make concessions, hoping for a softening of the positions of international partners,” said Vircoulon. 

“But this will not work in practice because there is nothing left to negotiate, and the opposition has radicalised and expanded.” 

The Burundian analyst also said that in seeking to maintain his position and fight off coup plotters and defectors, Nkurunziza has purged intellectuals and moderates in favour of hardliners, “who will want to go all the way rather than seek compromise”. 

These hardliners mainly include the old guard of the CNDD-FDD, a former Hutu rebel group that came out on top after the 1993-2006 civil war that left 300,000 dead. 

According to French academic Christian Thibon, Burundi’s leadership may well choose to follow the path of the isolationist, paranoid and authoritarian Horn of Africa state of Eritrea. “Burundi has gone from being a badly-managed state of law to being a lawless state,” said the Burundian analyst. “This drift will accelerate, even if the regime will try to make some cosm

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