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AKINTERINWA: Nkurunziza Is In Order, But Burundi Situation Requires Tact

24 May 2015   |   3:46 am
Professor Bola Akinterinwa is the Director General of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs. Urging for a careful handling of the situation in Burundi, he told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that President Pierre Nkurunziza is constitutionally in order in seeking tenure elongation.


Against the backdrop of the coup that would have put paid to his tenure elongation plans, would you say it is time for jubilation for President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi?
I THINK the answer should be looked at, at two different but complementary levels, the domestic and international. Whether it is jubilation time or not, the answer is a function of both the domestic and international factors simultaneously.

First of all, at the domestic level, people are misunderstanding the Burundian situation out of context.

To begin with, yes there was a coup that supposedly failed, but the question is what was the nature of the coup? The coup d’état in Burundi was unprecedented in Africa.

Unprecedented because the kind of coup d’état we all are used to are ones by the military, aimed at either the political class or regime change, often under the guise allegation of corruption, bad governance; and then staying in power in order to correct those societal ills.

But the problem, as we have it in Burundi, is not about bad or good governance. No! The constitution of 2005 in Burundi and the 2000 Arusha agreement, are in conflict, therefore, the coup d’état in Burundi is one induced by the contradiction between the 2005 constitution and 2000 Arusha peace and development agreement, which ended their 12 years destructive conflict.

Now, the election of Nkurunziza of which the first was based on election by the parliament, which the Arusha agreement provided for, and the same agreement provided for the writing of a new constitution, which had been done, and that’s the 2005 Burundian constitution. So, the first term of Nkurunziza was based on a five-year term election by the parliament.

But the constitution that is currently operational now, provides for electing of the president by popular universal suffrage and it provides for a renewable five-year term. So, Nkurunziza had done one five-year term, based on the 2005 constitution.

This was why, for instance, the East Africa Community leaders supported the Burundian president and said that he has not breached any constitution, whatsoever, if he is seeking a second term.

But others, the opposition, including the military, who planned coup, looked at it to say this is third term. They are counting the election by the parliament, as part of it, and that was why I said at the domestic level, the coup was unprecedented, because it was induced by constitutional misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

If the constitution had provided for a two-term tenure, without any description on how the election will take place, then those who are fighting the incumbent president would be right. But because the constitution provides for universal suffrage and Nkurunziza has had only one term.


Pierre Nkurunziza

Pierre Nkurunziza

“So, the answer to your question now, what should Mr. president do under the circumstance? If Mr. President wants peace, even though he has the majority of the citizens in his favour, he may and he should demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship and look at his position divinely, at the end of the day by prevailing on the judicial institutions concerned not to adopt the capital punishment but can give them life sentences.”



Now at the international level, the African Union, in genera, and the various regional organisations like the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) in West Africa and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in Central Africa, as well as, the East African Community (EAC) to which Burundi is a member country, have all decided that under no circumstance would there be any change of government by force, regardless of what the reason for the coup might be, even if the coupists are trying to protect the constitution, in order words, democracy.

Now, the African Union has frowned at it because Nkurunziza was elected. In addition, all the EAC leaders support the incumbent; the position of the AU and the larger international community favour the President Nkurunziza.

Now to answer your question, what will follow now that the coup has failed? One, many Burundians, we don’t have any good statistics to know whether we can talk about majority or minority or 50-50, but there were reports that when the coup took place, people were jubilating. Were they opposition elements? Who are they? We don’t know, but people jubilated.

In order words, it is not only the coup makers, nor the military alone that were hostile to the alleged tenure elongation of Nkurunziza. So, there are some opposition elements that can serve, and have the potential, to continue to resist.

Then, the government would be required, now that the coup has failed, to seek to punish the coupists. No government has ever spared anybody who tries to rebel against them, but the only thing is that these coupists they did not want to make the attempt bloody, they allowed the President to go out on official meeting, meaning that at the end of the day, if they had succeeded, then the President would have become a refugee or a political assylee outside the country.

So, when you look at it in the context of the French proverbial saying: ‘order and counter order amount to disorder,’ the incumbent president will have an order in the area of punishment and the use of force to resist or to control the rebellion and then the opposition would also want to resist, to say they will not accept, but the critical point of submission and answer to the question is that Burundi has had a turbulent 12 year violent history in terms of ethnic balance.

Ethnicity is a major problem. The Hima-Hutu and Hima-Tutsi have been at loggerhead for a long time. It is the Arusha agreement that has been panel-beating or enabling the peaceful coexistence that has existed so far. Now if care is not taken, if we allow the incumbent president order to counter order by opposition element and also by the military, the order and counter order will certainly amount to an encounter, which eventually will lead to disorder, and in this case, it may be more difficult to provide any enduring solution. And it will be more than the genocide problem we had in Rwanda in the early 1990s.

What then will you suggest should be the style of engagement by the President Nkurunziza-led administration?
Well, treason is treason. But in the African setting and in terms of polimological analysis (the study of conflict and crisis), the issue is, what prompted the minority Tutsi to want to plan coup? As I will maintain that the coup is unprecedented because this time, it cannot be that the Tutsi would want to govern, would want to take over. No.

They are now saying there should be respect for the constitution and the rule of law, it is simply because they want change and rotation.

So, in this case, if the President was not to contest in the June 2015 election, would there have been any opportunity for the minority Tutsi to come to power? It is not certain. As you know quite well that the Hutus are in the majority in Burundi and the Tutsi are in the majority in Rwanda and the two of them, even though they used to belong to the same country before, but the instability in Burundi cannot but impact considerably on Rwanda and vice versa.

So, the answer to your question now, what should Mr. president do under the circumstance? If Mr. President wants peace, even though he has the majority of the citizens in his favour, he may and he should demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship and look at his position divinely, at the end of the day by prevailing on the judicial institutions concerned not to adopt the capital punishment but can give them life sentences.

Could this conflict lead to similar carnage and mayhem of the past?
You see, in the continuum of violence, at the bottom you find crisis. Violence begins with crisis. And when you do not manage crisis timely, consciously and efficiently, it will degenerate into a conflict. When we talk about crisis, it is left for diplomats to negotiate through their no use of force (approach), but when negotiation and mediation fail, the next thing is to move, to degenerate to the level of conflict. Now, conflict, if you don’t manage it, because it involves the use of force, and depending on the kind of force you are using now, it will degenerate into war. And war can be total. And when war is total, be it hot or cold, the critical objective is to undermine the survival of the enemy; to incapacitate the enemy.

So, in this case, you continue to move from war and global conflagration. The issue now is that we are at the state of crisis in Burundi.

So, when you asked me ‘do I expect a genocidal outcome?’ I will say it depends on how you manage the crisis as at today. If you manage it well then it will not lead to that. If you mismanage it, there cannot be any limit to the outcome. That is why the Yoruba people say, ‘what is behind six is more than seven.’

So, crisis is at the bottom of the continuum of violence. Total war and insecurity meet at the crescendo of the continuum. So, it is how you manage the crisis today that will determine whether the worst scenario should be contemplated upon.