Posted by: africanpressorganization | 29 June 2009

EurAc / Memorandum for the Swedish presidency of the European Union / Elections and beyond: Towards stability in Burundi





EurAc / Memorandum for the Swedish presidency of the European Union / Elections and beyond: Towards stability in Burundi



BRUSSELS, Kingdom of Belgium, June 29, 2009/African Press Organization (APO)/ — On Tuesday 9th June 2009, the Security Council acknowledged recent progress in the peace process in Burundi. “Peace-building in Burundi is entering a new phase, having achieved remarkable progress in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes”, stated Per Ornéus, representative for Sweden, the country that chairs the Peace-building Commission for Burundi.

Since the start of the year, certain disputes have been resolved. The institutional obstacle that had been blocking the National Independent Election Commission (CENI) was removed. CENI was set up following several discussions that were littered with one-upmanship and debates about the neutrality of its members. As the first team was rejected by the senate on 20th January 2009, after the National Assembly boycotted the approval session, a new team was approved by both Chambers of the Parliament on 13th February 2009 and was sworn in on 8th April 2009.


Another positive development is the inclusion of the Palipehutu-FNL, the last active rebel group, in the political institutions. On Wednesday 20th May 2009 four of its members received approval from the senate to hold prominent diplomatic and administrative positions. The rebel group was registered as a political party, and dropped the ethnic reference “Palipehutu” from its name.


The third positive step is the liberation of ex-journalist Alexis Sinduhije, who was imprisoned at the beginning of 2009, and the official recognition of his party, Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD), as the 43rd political party in Burundi.



Balanced evaluation of the government’s term


The government’s first term was complicated: there were several stumbling blocks for the institutions and the political climate tended towards authoritarianism. The political landscape was unstable, because most parties suffered a lot of internal tension and there were even some ruptures within the parties. The war with the FNL continued. In socioeconomic terms, in spite of efforts to substantially improve access to education and primary health care, and improve salaries in certain professions, the population is still living in very precarious conditions, and mismanagement continues to be a major obstacle towards an efficient fight against poverty.

These difficulties do not change the fact that the country has made significant progress since the end of the war. The real progress in negotiations between the government and the FNL in recent months will probably result in the military and political integration of the last rebel group in the near future. Political debate is taking place in a real multiparty system, and in spite of pressure put on them by the authorities, the press and civil society are managing to play their role. The division between Hutus and Tutsis is no longer seen as the cause of all the problems in the country, and the army is no longer used by one ethnic group as a device to protect its privileges.


Heading for elections against a background of intimidation?

To consolidate the progress made during the first legislature, it is very important that at its end, the legislature respects the Constitution of the Republic, and that the second legislature’s institutions are created by a free and transparent new electoral cycle.

In spite of these significant improvements in security, Burundi is still a violent country, as highlighted by the publication entitled “Pursuit of power: Political violence and Repression in Burundi”, published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in June 2009. This report describes cases where both the FNL and CNDD/FDD used acts of violence and political threats against opponents and dissidents within their own ranks. The fact that these same two ex-rebel groups will ask for the electorates’ confidence increases the risk that the (pre-) election campaign will be based on violence and threats, by drawing on demobilised soldiers and “sports clubs” which can be transformed into militias. There is a real security problem, especially as the civil population was never really disarmed. This population is impoverished, continues to live in exclusion and is easily manipulated….

There are indications that the party in power is preparing to go down the Rwandan route to consolidate its historical victory of 2005. The FPR provide the example for this course of action in Rwanda, using threats and mechanisms for control. Some fear that Burundi will go down the Somali route, where the country implodes because the different political movements become militarised under the pressure of their youth leagues and demobilised soldiers amongst their ranks. This would tear the country apart; different sections would be run and exploited by militias with extremely vague political programmes, but much more concrete economic interests and a very clear ethnic identity. Even if we cannot exclude this possibility, it is not very probable, since the army remained faithful to its mission of neutrality, and the Burundian population understands that it lived through ten years of a war that nobody won. They know that things cannot be resolved by the use of weapons and a possible new war would only create more losers. All Burundian and international actors will need to work towards a Burundian route, which signs up to the Burundian tradition of reconciling differences. This is a tradition where every step forward in the conflict is the result of negotiations, which are sometimes slow, vague and interspersed with irrational meanderings, and sometimes much more focussed and precise. This tradition has allowed the Burundian people to find Burundian solutions to their problems, following a process that allows time and space for political actors to achieve solutions that are within their grasp and that they can make their own.


To support this important and delicate process, EurAc urges the European Union and its Member States to:

Take action to support and assist the election process with expertise and funds, and in particular provide support to CENI so that it can act completely independently. Use pressure, where necessary to encourage the different actors on the political stage in Burundi to respect the commitments they have made and continue to work within the constitutional framework

Provide expertise and financing to support the processes of demobilisation and the reintegration of demobilised soldiers, who, in the worst case scenario, could be used during the (pre-) election campaign to create a climate of violence and intimidation. Support the adoption of a national policy to disarm the population

Consolidate reform in the security sector to ensure that all security forces are sufficiently trained on the criminal code, the State of law, humanitarian rights and the principles of human rights, and support the creation of an independent and efficient justice system.


Violence against women

The end of the civil war in Burundi did spell the end of violence against women. Society is still traumatised and the social fabric and norms were destroyed and values were distorted. There are many weapons and combatants amongst the population, as well as high levels of unemployment and poverty. War and displacement are not the only causes of sexual violence in Burundi. It also results from several corollary factors including women’s weak socioeconomic status, the traditional patriarchal structure of society which allows little room for women in decision-making processes, a society that accepts gender related violence as forming part of home and community life, and a State which does not protect women and children and does not bring rapists to justice. Even though there are no exact figures, child rape and incest have greatly increased, and very few women and child victims receive assistance and support.


The pre-existing inequality between men and women was made worse by years of conflict, which reinforced the marginalization of women and created a lasting culture of impunity where sexual crimes are not reported and go unpunished. The impotence of the judicial system means that victims are not protected: women daren’t report the facts for fear of retaliation or being excluded from community life, or through “acceptance” due to the fact that those responsible for the crimes will not be brought to justice.




EurAc calls on the European Union and its Member States to:


Support the implementation of international and regional protocols and conventions on the subject of violence against women (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights relating to Women’s Rights, UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, CIRGL’s protocol on sexual violence against women) and support actions to strengthen the judicial system

Support the implementation of a national strategy to combat gender related violence, support programmes that care for the victims (providing health, psychological, economic and legal assistance and shelters for the victims). Ensure that medical personnel, police officers, lawyers and magistrates are trained to look after victims of gender related violence and contribute to improved coordination of their involvement in this matter.



Breaking the vicious circle of poverty

One factor irrefutably contributing to the conflicts is population pressure and its effect on an economy that is widely dependent on the primary sector. The population, estimated to be 7.8 million in 2006, doubles every thirty years, at a rate of 2.7 % a year, and about half of the population of Burundi is less than 15 years old. 89 % of the population live in rural areas, but agriculture can no longer absorb this population. Urbanization is increasing at the rate of 6.8 % a year, but the economy’s capacity to generate non-agricultural jobs is extremely limited. In addition, Burundi must accommodate the remaining occupants of Tanzanian refugee camps, an estimated 150,000 people were expected before the end of 2008.

Developments in the socioeconomic situation are the result of the socio-political crisis has affected the country since 1993. A combination of factors linked to the conflict, such as the destruction of the infrastructure, the enforced exile and internal displacement of thousands within the population, the embargo (1996-1999), political instability, environmental damage and other factors that are unrelated to the civil war, such as climatic changes and the unfavourable international economic situation have ruined an already weak economy. The most recent estimate of the poverty rate shows that 67 % of the population live below the poverty line. Household purchasing power is deteriorating inexorably and the provision of primary needs is becoming more and more difficult for the most vulnerable of households. The cost of food is increasing at an unprecedented rate.

Agricultural activities account for 95 % of the rural population’s income, with more than two thirds of the rural population being poor (69 %), compared to 34 % in towns. Land distribution, loss of soil fertility, the use of rudimentary traditional techniques, inadequate services to support production and marketing, the high rate of illiteracy and difficulties in obtaining credit are the reasons for the agricultural sector’s poor productivity, and the low incomes of rural families.


EurAc recommends that the European Union and its Member States:

Take the lead in setting up a Marshall Plan for the election campaign in Burundi that focuses on (a) the implementation of services for the support and supervision of rural agriculture, both on a technical level and in terms of microcredit and of marketing; (b) an innovative approach to achieve diversification and rationalisation in agriculture; and (c) investing significant sums in rural facilities (roads, markets, access to water,…). Each general plan needs to have a specific section for the women of Burundi, the backbone of the agricultural family, and therefore the rural economy in Burundi.

Support the creation of a co-ordinated and collective land policy, which takes local practices and dynamics into account. Reforms can only be truly efficient if they are coordinated by one unique institution that has been given sufficient means to manage a clear land policy that is shared by all actors, and to co-ordinate all the actions needed to manage and administer the land.


Good governance and decentralisation

Burundi does not have a tradition for good governance. Over the years, corruption and nepotism have penetrated all sectors of public life. Several authors consider these issues, more than any others, to be the root of Burundi’s problems: at different levels within the State, different generations of politicians and administrators used their positions to benefit their families and their clans. The average Burundian often uses the ventriotism: the sole motivation of those holding public positions is to fill their stomachs. Neither the end of the war, nor the elections could put an end to this phenomenon. The new leaders will have to combat this and will have to introduce new principles and practices into their job. They will have to create new institutions and above all dispense with the old mindset.


Governance concerns the way in which public functions are carried out and public resources managed. At a local level, it is about the capacity of a region, municipality, or community to manage its own affairs. The measure to which decentralised authorities effective and accountable will have a considerable bearing on development at a local level.


The challenges related to decentralisation are numerous. Its purpose is to contribute to the reconstruction of the State and the restoration of its credibility. It is also supposed to act as an apprenticeship for the fledgling democracy, allowing the citizens to exercise their political responsibilities at a local level. Therefore, decentralisation will play a key role in the revitalisation of the political landscape from its foundations, while bringing about more harmonious economic development, by promoting community initiatives based on local dynamics.


We would like to highlight the importance of participation by citizens in the processes of national reconstruction. It is needed to promote participative management of the decentralised entities and participative decentralised development. Control by the citizens at a grassroots level will strengthen responsible governance from the foundations of the political system upwards.




EurAc calls on the European Union and its Member States to:


Contribute (a) to the strengthening of democratic institutions’ capacities through training directed at politicians, civil service agents, the police and the army: (b) to the development of procedures and the creation of agencies and mechanisms for controlling politics and the way the country is managed.

Contribute to the creation and protection of a place for civil society and the press, so that they can play their democratic role

Support the consolidation of a legal and regulatory framework for decentralisation and community development. It is important to specify which jurisdictions are transferred to the communes and to strengthen their autonomy in relation to the central administration. In addition, emphasis will need to be placed on the links between the Ministries’ sectoral policies and community planning, as well as on strengthening the capacities of the communes and basic community structures for the implementation of developmental activities.






Our network thinks that the Burundian election process has a real opportunity to succeed. To help achieve this success, the international community will have to find a fine balance between their loyal support of the process and the real pressures that will be placed on the electoral process to ensure that it is inclusive and participative, and leads to free and transparent elections. As Burundi divides the international community less than other countries in the region, we hope that it will be possible to formulate a Memorandum of Understanding for the partnership between Burundi and all its major donors, to act as a tool to help shape the basic principles that will provide consistency and reference criteria to this balance.





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