Burundi: Sacking of Vice President Tilts Burundi Into Crisis

In Burundi, there are growing strains within the fragile coalition. At issue is whether President Pierre Nkurunziza should run for a third term - and the future of an alliance of ex-civil war foes.

These are crisis-ridden times for Burundi's political leaders. Ministers have been losing their jobs in the upheavals of the last few months. Just a year before the next elections, there is growing friction between the majority governing party CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy) and their minority coalition partners UPRONA (Union for National Progress).

"There is a feud here which, if pursued, will end in disaster," Paul Mahwera, journalist and former Swiss ambassador to Burundi told DW. "The interior minister insists that the CNDD-FDD-led government is not interfering in UPRONA affairs, but people just don't believe this."

On Friday (14.02.2014) Prosper Bazombanza was formally sworn in as Buruindi's new vice-president. According to the constitution, the vice president has to be a member of UPRONA. This is a condition which Bazombanza fulfills. However, he does not have majority support for the post within his own party, which boycotted the vote.

Burundi is still recovering form a 12 year civil war which ended in 2005. Postwar political life rests on a compromise under which 60 percent of members of parliament must belong to the Hutu ethnic group and 40 percent to the Tutsis. The conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Burundi has - as in neighboring Rwanda - a long history.

Coming to terms with the past

But in Burundi - unlike Rwanda - the Tutsi minority ruled the country on their own for a long time. At the elections in 1993 - one year after Burundians voted for the introduction of a multiparty system - Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, was elected president.

Three months later, he was assassinated and the country was plunged into civil war, almost at the same time as the genocide was unfolding in Rwanda, where the Hutu government was calling for the slaughter of the Tutsi population.

How do you come to terms with a blood-spattered past? Rwanda and Burundi took different routes. Whereas Rwandan President Paul Kagame has gone so far as to even ban the mere mention of the terms "Hutu" and "Tutsi" in public, Burundi has opted for a more open approach, backed up by a quota system. Such is the assessment of Gesine Ames from the Berlin-based Ecumenical Network Central Africa, an association of faith-based groups campaigning for peace in the Great Lakes region. "Nonetheless ethnicity is still deeply rooted in the minds of the (Burundian) politicians," she said.

It would seem that Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and his former deputy Charles Nditije became embroiled in a dispute for this very reason. A row erupted over the distribution of land in the country, which is heavily dependent on agriculture. "It is a small country, but many people want to live there," one Burundian resident Dieudonne Ntameshimiro told DW. "The refugees who left Burundi a long time ago want to return, but the manner in which they are claiming land as their own is upsetting others," he explained.

This is a touchy subject, as it was when exiled Hutus returned home after the Tutsis departed from power. More recently, civil war refugees have been returning home from their host countries. The government appointed a commission to resolve the problem, but the ratio of Hutus to Tutsis in that body was not correct, according to Nditije.

Opposition called for election boycott

Nditije also objected to Nkurunziza's plans to amend the constitution so he could run for a third term in office in 2015. Nkurunziza, who has governed Burundi since 2005, was re-elected in 2010. Because of suspicions that the preceding local elections had been rigged, the opposition called for a boycott of the poll. Only UPRONA accepted the results of the local elections.

But when it came to supporting Nkurunziza's planned constitutional amendments, Nditije was not prepared to commit himself and so he was sacked from the post of vice president in January.

It remains uncertain whether any opposition candidate would run against Nkurunziza in 2015. Since 2010 the opposition has been inactive. One candidate could be Agathon Rwasa, head of the Tutsi-dominated FNL (National Liberation Front), whom critics accuse of having ordered the massacre of Hutus in his capacity as leader of a citizens' militia. Rwasa told DW that "people should start acting as adults, it isn't a matter of Hutu, Tutsi, CNDD/FDD or FNL. Only good governance on the basis of law and order can move our country forward."

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