Burundi crisis: 1 year on & still no solution

It's been about a year since Burundi plunged into crisis. Let's take a look at how it got to this point.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in the Kigoma region in western Tanzania, as they wait for MV Liemba to transport them to Kigoma township, May 17, 2015.

Updated May 24, 2016

Unrest, mass killings and fleeing... this is Burundi.

A landlocked African country in the Great Lakes Region which has witnessed a continuous cycle of violence.

But why is this small country experiencing such difficult times?

A History of Violence

Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, ethnic tensions have caused almost daily violence and even a long civil war.

Around 210,000 people died during tribal violence in 1972 between the country's largest tribes, the Hutus and Tutsis.

The country went through a lengthy civil war from 1993 to 2006.

The conflict between rebels from the majority Hutus and an army dominated by minority Tutsis, left around 300,000 people dead.

But, in 2005, the country decided to turn over a new page and Pierre Nkurunziza was elected as president.

This was seen as a first step towards making the country more peaceful and stable.

He was re-elected in a popular election in 2010 after gaining more than 91 percent of the vote, despite an opposition boycott.

Political Tension

Political tensions had increased by the time the next general elections came around in 2015.

Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a third term, despite a constitutional two-term limit.

Despite him being accused of fraud and intimidation, he was re-elected for a third term in the July elections.

The opposition refused to accept or recognise the results of this election.

They claimed that the election was not fair because it had contradicted the terms of a peace deal and the constitution which was signed in 2006 after the end of the civil war.

Thousands took to the streets of the capital city Bujumbura to stand against Nkurunziza’s third-term in office.

Nkurunziza ordered police to bring a stop to the protests, and that's where the downward spiral began.

Violent clashes erupted between protesters and police.

Assassination tactics were deployed by both sides and over 450 people were killed.

With the streets and villages no longer safe, over 262,000 people fled to neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and some even fled as far as Uganda.

Almost 3,500 people were arrested under a government crackdown. Violence still continues until today.


World Reaction

African Union

The African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) warned that a possible tribal war and genocide could take place. 

At the AU Summit in Ethiopia in February 2016, a proposal of sending a 5000-strong peacekeeping force was discussed.

But the proposal was rejected by its members.

Instead of deploying peacekeeping troops, the AU sent a diplomatic mission to negotiate with Nkurunziza's government to end the crisis.

Nothing came out of the talks, so the AU had approved an international police mission which still needs to be deployed.

United Nations

Delegates of the UN Security Council visited Burundi many times where top officials and delegates met with Nkurunziza.

Three main conditions were set for Nkurunziza to implement:

-End all violence
-Prevent ethnic tension
-Promote peace talks between opposition and government

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was one of the top officials who had visited Nkurunziza.

He pushed Nkurunziza to set political dialogue with the opposition, release prisoners and to end a crackdown on media.

But according to UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, ''many of Burundi's people live in terror'' despite the progress being made to stop violence.

Protesters carry a Burundi flag after General Godefroid Niyombare said he had sacked Pierre Nkurunziza as president.

European Union

The European Union (EU) suspended its direct financial support to the government of Burundi in March 2016.

Europe's top body also imposed sanctions on Burundian officials close to Nkrunziza.

The EU said that Burundi had not yet satisfied EU concerns to end the conflict.

EU funding had generated nearly half of Burundi’s annual budget.

Peace Talks

After dialogue between Burundi's government and the opposition failed, Uganda took responsibility to set another meeting. 

These peace talks had also failed.

Tanzania had decided to give it a go on May 21, but several opposition figures were not invited.

Residents look on as police and soldiers guard a voting station in Burundi's capital of Bujumbura during the country's presidential elections on July 21, 2015.

Rwanda's Role

Burundi and Rwanda have almost the same ethnic mixture of majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

These countries were occupied and ruled by Belgium as one country until they gained their separate independence.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have worsened after almost collapsing in 2012.

Following the violence in Burundi, Rwandan President Paul Kagame urged his neighbours to learn ''lessons from history'' and avoid another genocide.

Nkurunziza accused Kagame of arming Burundian rebels, a claim the Rwandan president labelled as ''childish'' before rejecting the accusation.

The UN Security Council released a report last February which verified Nkurunziza's claims against Kagame.

The Security Council accused Rwanda of recruiting and training rebels with the aim of fighting and ousting Nkurunziza.

As a result, the international community is concerned that the violence could spread out from the Great Lakes Region and bring back the historical tribal tension that once stormed the region in the past.

But as the crisis marks one year today, a solution has still not been found.

Author: Mucahid Durmaz