As Nkurunziza Joins The League Of Africa’s Sit-Tight Leaders
As the world’s attention was still focused on bringing succour to the earthquake stricken Nepal, Africa may have started coping, yet again, with its peculiar, but avoidable natural disaster of mayhems and carnages as occasioned by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s spear-heading constitutional change in Burundi to fulfill a third term tenure elongation for another five-year in office. The country, which barely remained afloat after a destructive civil war that mercifully ended in 2005, would in the coming days dominate the global headlines.
While Africa, according to former Nigeria minister of external affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, who recently spoke to The Guardian, does not hold the inglorious monopoly of savagery, the continent must take the top prize in the love for avoidable constitutional dilemma as characterised by sit-tight leaders, who do not see the possible continuous existence of their countries beyond their leaderships. Akinyemi had based his conclusion on the savagery the world endured during the Bosnia-Herzegovinian carnage.
Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, became the first president to be chosen in democratic elections since the end of Burundi’s civil war which lasted between 1993 to 2005 and killed at least 300,000 people.
If his plans sail through, Burundi would be joining the league of nations on the continent whose leaders have been in office for more than 15 years. Among which include Algeria, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Gambia, Sudan, Uganda and Eritrea. This is leaving out constitutional monarchies of Swaziland, which has King Makhosetive Dlamini (Mswati III), who is 29 years on the throne, as well as, his neighbour, Lesotho, where King David Mohato Bereng Seeiso (Letsie III) has been in power, cumulatively, for 25 years. Unlike Mswati III, who is an absolute monarch, Letsie III is ceremonious head of government.
Equatorial Guinea holds the trophy in President Teodor Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power for 35 years. More than 65 percent of the country’s population have known no other leader besides President Obiang. He shares the trophy for longetivity with Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos, who became leader of the former Portuguese colony on September 10, 1979, and is the second president since the country’s independence in 1975.
Zimbabwe and Cameroun also follow closely on the footsteps of Angola. President Robert Gabriel Mugabe has been in power for 35 years and is the oldest leader on the continent at 91 years of age. In Cameroun, about 80 percent of the population have known no other leader beside President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 33 years.
But in October 2014, when a member of the league, Blasé Compaore tried to “follow the African tradition”even after 26 years in power in Burkina Faso, he was blocked by mass uprising and forced to resign on October 31.
Born in Ngozi province in 1964 to a father who was a member of parliament and killed in 1972 during one of the country’s many ethnic violence, Nkurunziza joined the Hutu rebellion in 1995 and rose through the ranks to become head of the Force for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) in 2001. He sustained a serious mortar injury during the conflict.
The former sports teacher and self-proclaimed born-again Christian was selected as president by parliamentarians in August 2005 after his FDD won parliamentary elections a few weeks earlier. A point he now used to make a case for tenure elongation. He claimed he was selected in 2005 and as such that period must not count.
Nkurunziza was re-elected in June 2010 presidential polls, even as the vote was boycotted by the opposition, which complained of fraud in the earlier local elections.
After the 2010 polls, the European Union praised Burundi for holding a peaceful presidential election, but criticised the government for being intolerant of political expression.
Since 2010, opposition leaders and international observers have complained of increasing attacks and pressure on opposition parties and the media.
In the run-up to a presidential election scheduled for this year, opposition parties have accused Mr. Nkurunziza of seeking to rewrite the constitution for his party’s gain, and of behaving increasingly like a dictator.
Demonstrators have since taken to the streets in the capital town, Bujumbura, and elsewhere, since April to oppose Nkurunziza’s plans to run for the third term.
Nkurunziza’s bid for a third consecutive term, according to opposition figures and rights groups, goes against the constitution, as well as, the peace deal that ended civil war in 2006.The country’s Constitutional Court, however, ruled in favour of Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for a third term, amid reports of judges being intimidated. A dozen people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled the country to escape violence after the army was deployed to quell protests.
The 2005 vote was one of the final steps in a peace process intended to end years of fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army.
A peace agreement between the government and the remaining Hutu rebels was signed in 2006, but broke down after the government rejected rebel demands for power sharing. A ceasefire with the last major active rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), was signed in May 2008.
On Thursday, at least four people were killed in fresh protests, even as Nkurunziza vowed he would not seek a fourth term, if allowed do a third term. A government supporter was burnt alive and an opposition supporter was shot in the head.
While these are ongoing, the African Union (AU) has intervened in its characteristic manner suggesting support for the incumbent regime even where the government’s actions are unconstitutional. Though, AU joined the United States in urging Nkurunziza to drop his plans to seek a third term, but in a subtle turnaround, the continental body may have endorsed the plan when it stated that conditions in Burundi are not conducive for elections.
Chairman of the AU commission, Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said elections could not be held in Burundi in the current climate.
“Other than the Burundi court, all interpretation that we get about the constitution is that… really there shouldn’t be a third term.”
In a televised address on Wednesday, Nkurunziza called for an end to protests so that the election could go ahead peacefully. He vowed it would be his last term and said all those arrested would be released if the protests stopped immediately.
Foreign ministers from four Eastern African states visited Burundi during the week in an attempt to end the crisis.
The unrest is the worst in Burundi since a civil war ended in 2005. At least 24 people have now been killed in almost daily protests since Nkurunziza’s announcement of extending his 10-year rule.
The government has denounced the protesters as “terrorists” who are leading an “insurrectional movement.”