What you need to know about Burundi and why we need to act

Burundi is a small country in the ‘Great Lakes’ region of Africa, with an incredibly violent history. Plagued by ethnic tensions, political corruption, human rights violations and civil war for much of its time since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, Burundi is on the verge of another potential massacre. The chilling possibility of this is exactly why we all need to know about the current situation in Burundi, and what we can do to ensure proper action is taken to prevent such atrocities…

What has caused the current unrest in Burundi?

After years of unrest due to ethnic tensions between the native Hutu’s and Tutsi’s in Burundi (much like in Rwanda), the country seemingly managed to find peace and (supposedly) democracy after it signed the Arusha Accords in 2000, which aimed to relieve some of the tension between the groups. Assassinations, attempted coups by opposition to the government and genocide had been a far too common sight in Burundi. However, these Accords and their implementation seemingly bought some peace to the region, as its 12-year civil war came to an end in 2005. Unfortunately, unrest has once again flared in Burundi, stemming from President Pierre Nkurunziza, deciding to run for a third presidential campaign in April of this year. The problem with this, is that such an action violates the Burundian constitution and the Arusha Accords, which both explicitly state:

“No one [person] may serve more than two presidential terms.”

Nkurunziza argues that his first term does not count, as he was not elected as leader in 2005, he was placed there by the Parliament…

Regardless of the growing protests, Nkurunziza won the election in June and began serving his third second term in charge. Such a result did not cause the opposition to lose momentum, as they attempted another coup (an attempt to overthrow the current regime) and continued to reject Nkurunziza’s legitimacy. This continued resistance, along with Nkurunziza’s ambition to remain in power, has led to the current unrest in Burundi.

Why do we need to bring an end to such unrest?

The protests and rejection of his legitimacy has led Nkurunziza to take devastating action against the people of Burundi and the trouble and severity of the situation, only seems to be escalating. Hundreds have reportedly died in the months following his re-election at the hands of the authorities. On November 2nd, the President gave civilians 5 days to hand in any weapons they have, before the police are told to “get to work” on them and treat them as “enemies of the state”. Reverien Ndikuriyo (President of the Burundian Senate) has also reportedly told authorities:

“You have to pulverize, you have to exterminate – these people are only good for dying.”

Bodies are lining the streets as the violence continues to spread. Thousands of civilians have been displaced from their homes, due to fear/experience of violence. And this is why action needs to be taken. The language set out above portrays harrowing similarities to the language preceding the Rwandan genocide in the 1990’s (a similarity which Rwandan President Paul Kagame has noted and discussed), which resulted in over half a million people being massacred in the space of 100 days. Many leaders from all over the globe have expressed sorrow and regret when discussing their failures to protect civilians in the midst of the Rwandan genocide. Here, there is a chance to learn from our mistakes and act to save potentially thousands of civilians at risk of being tortured and killed by those who are supposed to protect them.

What has been done so far?

There is no doubt that world leaders are being constantly updated on the situation in Burundi currently. The UN Security Council had an urgent meeting about it on Monday, Obama took political action against Burundi last week by removing them from a trade pact, as a result of their lack of rule of law. The EU has invited President Nkurunziza to talk about current tensions and try to find a resolve. However, this is not sufficient.

Simply, not enough attention has been given to the crisis occurring in Burundi, leading to world leaders such as David Cameron and Barack Obama being able to avoid having to answer questions on their current lack of action to protect the innocent people of Burundi and to help them build a sustainable society, where they have the opportunity to flourish rather than live in constant fear. The Malta Summit is currently taking place, where many African and European leaders are discussing how to best deal with the increasing numbers of people leaving Africa for Europe. In the meantime, those people some leaders are trying to convince to stay in their home countries are facing death as we continue to ignore the actions of their leader.

So, what can we do to change this?

Fortunately for most people reading this, our countries offer us plenty of opportunities to make ourselves heard and scrutinize the actions of our leaders. This is exactly what we need to do for Burundi.

  1. Urge our leaders to discuss the current situation as part of the UN and search for a solution to the problems.The UN Security Council are today having a vote to agree whether or not action should be taken in Burundi. Yet, this has still received little/no attention from our leaders in the UK (as far as I can see). Whether it is through signing a petition or sending a letter to your local MP asking for them to take action, this is your chance to show our leaders that we want something done to stop these mindless, indiscriminate killings currently occurring.
  2. Share this article and help as many people learn about Burundi as possible. The more of us that know about it, the more likely it is that we can bring about change.
  3. Finally, talk about it yourself! Globalisation has offered us a fantastic opportunity to speak to people around the world all from the comfort of our own homes. Use Twitter, Facebook and so on to ensure Burundi is not another country that experiences horrors we wish we’d acted quickly enough to stop.

Burundi is on a knife-edge with no immediate answer to its problems at the moment. Whilst the Malta Summit remains in the news, this is our chance to ensure and answer is forthcoming and ensure the people of Burundi are protected, like so many have wished they could have done in Rwanda 20 years ago. It is time for us to learn from our mistakes, and not merely apologise every time we repeat it.

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