“Unfortunately the population is no longer afraid of death; sometimes people even seem to have gotten used to this situation.” It’s the tragic account of an eye-witness of the crisis in Burundi, wishing to remain anonymous for security reasons. Tensions and violence have been raging across the Country since the end of April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in office, prohibited by the Constitution, which was bypassed in a criticized poll past July. Police and army repression of street protests, an attempted coup, raids on the neighborhoods where the riots broke out, worsened by the clashes between loyalist troops and mutinous soldiers, have left hundreds dead. Only last weekend 87 died as a result of an attack on military bases in the neighborhood of Ngagara and of the reaction of the military.
Appeal to peace. “The local Church has asked to at least give the victims a humane burial – our anonymous source said – without differentiating between the two sides, while on the solemnity of the Immaculate, at the Marian shrine of Mugera the Bishops’ Conference called upon everyone to act with moderation and dialogue.” The appeal was reiterated on several occasions over the past months by international institutions, notably the United Nations and the African Union, but to no avail. “The government wants the dialogue to be circumscribed, it refuses to extend the dialogue to all involved parties, and does not like interferences.” On the other hand, even the opposition has changed its nature during the past weeks.” At first, peaceful demonstrations called for a boycott of the vote and demanded the establishment of a transitional government – continued the witness – which opponents wanted to take part in, but they were met with deaf ears. Now that the elections are over, the regime is increasingly barricaded and while previously the opposition acted in self-defense now those actions have escalated into attacks.”
Widespread fear. “The riots are concentrated in the capital”, the interlocutor went on, “especially in certain neighborhoods, but the economic crisis extends to the rest of the Country” and, coupled by insecurity, it contributes to the flight of many citizens abroad.
According to the United Nations over 200 thousand refugees have already fled to Rwanda, Tanzania and to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It’s an element of instability in a region already marked by tensions, which still bears the scars of the severe crisis of the past decades. Among these, the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the violence in Burundi have divided the people of Hutu origin from those of Tutsi origin. It is largely feared that that scenario may reoccur. “Today the situation is different – they explained – yet people are afraid. They remember the 1972 and 1993 massacres. The trauma of those events is an open wound in the collective memory.” In fact, it was not until the years 2000 that the civil war in Burundi finally came to an end thanks to the agreements signed in Arusha, Tanzania, and which today are jeopardized by Nkurunziza’s third mandate – denounced civil society representatives.
Necessary mediation. All hopes of avoiding a renewed escalation of violence lie in the international Community. The first appeal is to the United Nations: “In the Democratic Republic of Congo, across the border, tens of thousands of men are involved in a peacekeeping mission [Monusco, with a team of approximately 20 thousand peacekeepers, Ed.’s note], who could be sent to our Country. However, until today the Security Council, that was convened several times, has been indecisive…” Moreover, also the European Union, which on December 8 held a meeting with a government delegation to demand the respect of human rights, could play a significant role. The matters at stake include, inter alia, the green light to a five-year funding package to Burundi. This form of political pressure could become a decisive step leading to the resolution of the conflict, while the alternative, according to our interlocutor, is the worsening of the current situation: “If the international community should fail, there would be no other negotiator to turn to”, he concluded.