AD68: Escalating political crisis belies Burundians’ strong support for democracy

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Thomas Bentley, Abel Oyuke, Peter Halley Penar, and Christophe Sebudandi

Burundi is in the midst of a violent political crisis sparked when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek, and then claimed, a controversial third term. Hundreds have been killed and more than 200,000 have fled (Office of the UNHCR, 2015) since Nkurunziza’s decision in April 2015 to ignore term-limit provisions of the Arusha peace agreement and the Burundian Constitution, as well as strong criticism from civil society and the international community.

Public protests and government repression, including the use of torture and lethal force (Amnesty International, 2015), continue to escalate since Nkurunziza was awarded a third term after July 2015 elections that the main opposition parties boycotted, the African Union (AU) refused to endorse through election observers (Daily Maverick, 2015), and United Nations (UN) observers said were neither credible nor free (Guardian, 2015).

The government’s actions stand in sharp contrast to the convictions that Burundi citizens expressed in the most recent Afrobarometer survey, in September-October 2014, including support for democracy, for free and fair elections, and for limiting presidential terms to a maximum of two. In particular, Burundians value democracy as the protection of civil liberties and personal freedom and as peace, unity, and power-sharing – all of which are threatened by the current crisis.

As a confrontation between citizens’ democratic aspirations and the government’s power, the worsening crisis raises serious questions about Burundi’s international commitments under the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, to which it has been a signatory since 2007.

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