18 December 2017

Burundi: Straight Towards Constitution Amendment

Photo: Présidence Burundi
Le Président Pierre Nkurunziza délivrant son discours d'investiture.

The Head of State solemnly launched his campaign for the referendum on the amendment to the Constitution in Bugendana on December 12. The event sparked controversy.

In the place long intended for the construction of the international airport, the population was present since the morning of December 12, 2017. There were no distinctive signs of political parties as usual during ceremonies. All the assembled executive, parliamentarians, most political parties and civil society, diplomats and ordinary citizens were there waiting, some looking forward to the president's speech. In his speech, President Pierre Nkurunziza came back to the reasons which in his opinion justify the revision of the current Constitution. "Political parties, civil society and the population, through the inter-Burundian dialogue, wanted the constitution to be revised."

He also explained the reasons that motivated this draft revision of the constitution by referendum.

"Some articles of the current Constitution are no longer compatible with the present time whether at the national or regional level. It is with this in mind that we have taken note of the aspirations of the Burundian population to revise it. "

Pierre Nkurunziza stressed that only a few ambiguous articles will be amended.

"Articles relating to democracy, the protection of minorities, peace and security, the political freedoms of opponents and national sovereignty are not affected by this revision. This is how he invited all citizens without exception to participate in this civic activity but with a warning:"We take this opportunity to warn those who would attempt to obstruct or disrupt this activity in deeds or words. They should know that it's a red line that should not be overstepped. I call on the authorities from bottom to the top to be vigilant and get ready to bring these people before justice. "


Gaston Sindimwo: "Crossing the Rubicon"

Burundi First Deputy President calls everyone to go to vote this new Constitution. "And vote yes. However, for those who will vote no, it is their choice, we are in a democracy. "For those who say that it is not the moment, Gaston Sindimwo assures that it is necessary to cross the Rubicon at some time, stop delaying what should be done. All social strata have been associated in the work of the amendment to the new Constitution which is the emanation of the will of the people.

Agathon Rwasa: "A forcing"

The First Vice-President of the National Assembly says this election campaign is rather a forcing with a Constitution motivated by one person. Agathon Rwasa regrets that this new law remains hitherto unknown to the people and says he will neither campaign for nor against it. He nonetheless calls on Burundians to be more discerning and judge the desirability as well as the added value of this referendum.

Pacifique Nininahazwe: "Escalation of the crisis"

According to this human rights activist, the announcement of the referendum campaign is an impediment to the process of dialogue. For Pacifique Nininahazwe, President Nkurunziza forces his solutions and aggravates the crisis. His Constitution was rejected in 2014. He wants to pass it without discussion and without possibility of modification. "His project seriously threatens the balance that resulted from the 2000 Arusha Peace Accord."

Hamza Venant Burikukiye: "Sovereignty of the nation"

The spokesman for the Integral Platform of the Civil Society PISC-Burundi says the amendment to the Constitution comes under the sovereignty of the nation. Hamza Venant Burikukiye assures that this revision emanates from the will of the people and nobody has the right to contradict sovereign people.

Analysis: A revision at any cost

Bujumbura continues its momentum, against all odds. The 2020 elections are just around the corner and everything needs to be organized for this big event. This week has been busy with an ordinance that sets the amount of each citizen's dues for the next polls and the famous launch of the referendum campaign as well.

President Nkurunziza said in his speech that only the provisions contrary to the political evolution of Burundi will be submitted to referendum.

"Those that strengthen democracy, unity and social cohesion, which protect minorities and the opposition will be safeguarded. But many analysts simply see a winning ticket that the president gives to himself. With this new deal, the counters are reset. The president can continue to rule for the next 14 years in office to the great displeasure of leaders of opposition political parties who do not know which way to turn. They had protested against the "third" candidacy of the president in 2015, which they judged as illegal and illegitimate. Demonstrations were held in the streets of Bujumbura to protest "against his third term of office."

Today, there is a groggy opposition that helplessly speaks of an electoral forcing. For the power in place, all is done "in the name of national sovereignty and the will of the people." It indicates that the international community in general, and the EAC in particular, need only to keep away from this purely national question even though this same international community is involved in finding a solution to the Burundian crisis.

The mediation / facilitation mandated by the EAC has been trying to help Burundians end the crisis for two years. But with this revision of the Constitution, it is very easy to see that the facilitation's room for maneuver is reduced. The population continues to live through the economic crisis. Donors have suspended aid and investors are reluctant. With austerity, growing unemployment rate, rising prices with more taxes and now contributions, Burundians do not know which way to turn.

Written by Jean Noël Manirakiza and Agnès Ndirubusa and translated by Pierre Emmanuel Ngendakumana


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