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Civil society coalition warns the AU to ‘take action now on Burundi or risk regional destabilization”

The AU We Want Coalition, a group of civil society organization, warned the African Union (AU) that “the situation in Burundi is spiraling out of control, with hundreds of civilians killed or disappeared, due to the ongoing political impasse over moves by President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term in June.”

The group said what is happening in Burundi was against constitutional provisions and “despite arguments …that his first term was not as a result of a popular election.” “The third term move is dangerous,” the group said, adding “the country is still traumatized by a 12 year civil war, in which 300,000 people died, and many thousands more fled their homes and the country.”

Despite the fact that in 2005, ethnic quotas were formed for determining positions in Burundi’s government, the political situation remains volatile and highly fractious.

Evidence that Burundi will revert to atrocities and ethnic violence is glaringly present. The crackdown on outspoken civil society actors and opposition politicians; the allegations of the arming of and crimes committed by the Imbonerakure youth group affiliated to the ruling party; the sacking of dissenting government officials critical of the 3rd term issue; the ban on free expression and assembly; and the manipulation of political parties ahead of the 2015 elections, should be clear signals for prompt action by the AU, a statement from the coalition said.
“It is critical that the AU acts with urgency, considering that Burundi is at the heart of the fragile Great Lakes Region and conflict in the country could create turmoil across the region; especially now that the UN Mission has withdrawn its presence in the volatile nation,” said Yves Niyiragira, a member of the AU We Want Coalition.

But Burundi’s path toward conflict and chaos has been deliberate, and gone unquestioned by the AU. The passing of legislation in 2013 restricting media freedoms should have been noted, and more so, the recent dangerous attempts by President Nkurunziza, to change the constitution, in order to extend his presidential term, despite being in in office for a decade.
“This elaborate scheme to alter his term limits is a raw power grab, similar to what was attempted in Burkina Faso, and Senegal years prior. It also is in direct contravention of the Arusha Peace Accords and contravenes the core principles of the newly ushered in African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG),” said Dismas Nkunda, member of the AU We Want Coalition.

The AU We Want Coalition therefore calls on the AU to stem the looming crises and put in place measures to institute sanctions against Burundi and pressure President Nkurunziza to abide by democratic principles and in particular to refrain from changing the constitution, as provided for under the ACDEG principles; hold Burundi to the commitments it has made towards democratic governance and free and fair elections, and request the government to allow for freedom of expression and assembly, and for the full and free participation of all sections of Burundian society; and support the mediation efforts of the COMESA/Peace and Security Council representatives among others.

The AU We Want Coalition is a grouping of civil society organizations that engage with the African Union through its organs. It partners with the AU by way of technical assistance, funding, network expansions and supports campaigns for a stronger AU that is effective, sustainable, and able to serve the interests of the African citizenry.

Cover caption: President Pierre Nkurunziza
Photo: AP Photo/Thierry Charlier

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