To the outside observer the mood in Burundi seems peaceful, but underneath the surface the violence continues, said Kassimi Bamba, the African Union special envoy to Burundi. “People are still being killed, but this occurs away from the public eye,” explained Bamba during a panel discussion organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Ecumenical Network Central Africa and Deutsche Welle in Berlin.
Burundi’s political crisis erupted in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he wanted to run for a third term in office. His critics called his bid to run again unconstitutional and the demonstrations against Nkurunziza’s move escalated into violent encounters between security forces and the opposition. According to the UN, at least 400 people have been killed and over 250,000 fled into exile since then. In July 2015, Nkurunziza was re-elected, even though international observers said the polls were unfair.
Current dialogue leading nowhere
The chances of achieving peace seem unlikely any time soon. Burundi’s government has set up a commission charged with conducting peace talks, yet critics have voiced their doubts over its effectiveness. “Who will take part in the dialogue if most of the opposition is in exile?” Bob Rugurika, the former director of the independent Burundian broadcaster Radio Publique Africain (RPA), asked. Rugurika himself was forced to flee the country last year.
AU diplomat Bamba agreed: “An inclusive dialogue must take place outside Burundi.” Burundi’s government has however refused such an option.
No second genocide
The deployment of an international police force to Burundi will change very little, Rugurika said. The UN Security Council approved the mission last Friday (02.04.2016), but the specifics are still unclear. According to Burundi’s ambassador to the UN, between 20 to 30 police officers will be stationed in the country. “Many Burundians had hoped for peace-keeping troops,” explained Rugurika. He doesn’t believe that such a small police unit can gain a grip of the situation. The UN, he said, should urgently re-evaluate the resolution.
Despite the ongoing violence and repression, the experts don’t see a danger of Burundi slipping into another genocide. “Most Burundians won’t allow themselves to be mobilized on ethnic lines,” said Claudia Simons from the Middle East and Africa research division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Ethnicity, she said, is only one of many factors contributing to the crisis. “We often forget that political and economic participation only takes place amongst a small elite.”
No alternative to the dialogue
There is no alternative to the dialogue, as far as Kordula Schulz-Asche is concerned. The Greens politician visited Burundi in 2015 as part of a delegation of German parliamentarians. “All of the Burundian lawmakers emphasized that there is no ethnic dimension to the problem,” said Schulz-Asche.
According to Schulz-Asche, if Burundi wants to solve its problems, European Union members should increase its pressure on the Burundian government.
What all the experts agreed on is that without a successful peace process, the country could experience another wave of violence. “If there is no political solution, Burundi will probably not remain peaceful. The situation could become extremely volatile,” Simons warned.