Since 2015, the Republic of Burundi in East Africa has been faced with unrest, due to the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza being elected for a third term. The opposition claimed it was an unconstitutional election – and that Nkurunziza was authoritarian – and began to protest, thus starting the worst civil distress since the civil war that ended in 2005. The Burundian Unrest is brutal, yet virtually unknown to most Americans. Here are 10 facts about the Burundian Unrest:
- There has been ethnic tension in Burundi since 1962. In 1890, Ruanda (Rwanda) and Urundi (Burundi) were joined in German East Africa as Ruanda-Urundi. Since then there has been tension between the majority Hutu population with the minority Tutsi population, with Tutsi typically being the dominant ethnic group. Since 1994 (the start of the civil war between Tutsis and Hutus), Burundi has been considered one of Africa’s most difficult conflicts to deal with.
- Pierre Nkurunziza was the first president to be chosen in a democratic election since the start of the civil war in 1994.
Nkurunziza is a former Hutu rebel leader and was elected in 2005 – one of the final steps in a peace process meant to end years of fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army. He has since been slowly seeing accusations of authoritarianism, with people boycotting the polls in 2010 and in 2015 when he ran for president again, despite the Burundian constitution limiting presidents to two terms.
- Burundian authorities have been abducting and killing its citizens. This is happening at an alarming rate; however, their methods have shifted. In 2015, authorities would openly murder civilians and leave their bodies in the streets of Bujumbura (the capital of Burundi), but recently they have been more discreet about it by kidnapping citizens and not telling their families where they went.
- In 2016, an average of more than 100 people a day crossed the Tanzanian border seeking refuge from the chaotic situation.
These new refugees joined the 250,000 refugees from the year before and are spread out throughout Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The refugees find themselves in shelters that are underfunded and overcrowded. Refugees risk a lot running away from Burundi because if they get caught by the militia, they are labeled “traitors” and are either sent back with a warning or, in extreme cases, assaulted and murdered.
- The ruling party in Burundi is the National Council of The Defence of Democracy- Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) The CNDD was created in 1994, as a direct result of the assassination of the democratically elected president that was the start of the civil war. The FDD was later created as an armed wing to establish popular resistance.
- Imbonerakure is the youth branch of the CNDD-FDD and is causing a lot of destruction. Imbonerakure is accused of beatings and killings and there is a suspected collaboration with the Burundi government. They have also been raping women related to men who are rebelling against the government. In addition, they have been known to go door to door, extorting money from residents, and have been arresting citizens despite having no technical arresting power.
- Mass arrests of opposition parties have been conducted. At least 16 members of the opposition party – National Liberation Forces (FNL) – were arrested in March 2016, with many more arrested in the following months.
- Despite being accused of human rights violations, Burundi is on the U.N.’s 47 member Human Rights Council. There was a panel of investigators set up by the human rights council last year, and in early September 2017, they said that they would be delivering the council a list of potential human rights violators in Burundi.
- Burundian refugees that have made it out of Burundi still face conflict in their new homes In September of this year, 36 refugees were shot and killed in the Congo, after an altercation with Congolese security forces.
- The U.N. has been working in Burundi since 2015. On Jan. 1, 2015 the U.N. Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) began working in the conflicted country. Jamal Benomar, Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Advisor, has been working with the Burundi government on creating a “credible and inclusive political dialogue.” It is a continuation of the U.N. office in Burundi (BNUB) that ended in 2014.
The crisis in Burundi is still rampant, but there are ways that everyday American citizens can help. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been assisting Burundi since 1996 to help victims recover from the war. The IRC is now focusing its efforts on Burundi’s border with Tanzania and around Bujumbura, the capital. They are providing emergency relief, deinstitutionalizing children in orphanages, teaching young people job skills, helping to manage refugee camps, safeguarding the human rights for refugees and more. Donations to them and organizations like them will go a long way for the people in Burundi and will hopefully allow the Burundian Unrest to begin settling.
– Téa Franco