News / Africa

Political Tensions in Burundi Simmer After Crackdown on Opposition

FILE - A  woman walking towards a voting booth in Bujumbura, Burundi, as people prepared to vote in a presidential election, June 28, 2010.
FILE - A woman walking towards a voting booth in Bujumbura, Burundi, as people prepared to vote in a presidential election, June 28, 2010.
Gabe Joselow
Members of a recently-suspended political party in Burundi could receive life sentences for a political protest that turned violent earlier this month.  The case highlights growing political tensions in the country ahead of next year's presidential election.

On March 8, demonstrators from the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) took to the streets of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, to protest against what they saw as the government's restrictions on political freedoms.

They were met by riot police who fired tear gas to break up the protest.  More than a dozen opposition members were injured during clashes that followed, while two policemen were briefly held hostage at MSD headquarters.

Now, the party has been suspended for four months and 46 party members are on trial, facing the possibility of life in prison on charges of insurrection, violence against police and rebellion.  Another 22 are facing lesser charges.

The president of the Forum for Strengthening Civil Society in Burundi, Vital Nshimirimana, says the March 8 crackdown was politically guided.

“The police showed that it is not neutral.  It is not neutral in the sense that it is kind of led by some part of the ruling party,” he said.

Presidential adviser Gervais Abayehu denies there is any deliberate crackdown on the opposition. He tells VOA the protesters violated an order by the interior minister that banned political rallies on that particular day, which coincided with a public celebration of International Women's Day.

“Things in this country are such that if you do not go by the law, if you do not respect what the interior minister is saying or the government is saying, it does not matter if you are in the opposition or whether you are in the ruling party, you have to face the full force of the law," he said.

The recent violence has grabbed the attention of the international community.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement after the clashes urging both sides to show restraint, while deploring the “growing restrictions on the freedom of expression, association and assembly" in Burundi.

The U.S. State Department condemned the government's use of “heavy-handed tactics” to break up the rally.

Abayehu says the overall political atmosphere is not as bad as it is made out to be, noting that the government has set up forums to discuss issues of concern among political parties.

He says the international community should not rely on information it gets from the opposition.

“If the international community rely on what is really the reality in the country, I think there is no reason, there is no cause for concern in the country.  We see the country being stable, being peaceful,” he said.

Some activists believe the government is intentionally stifling the opposition in order to place the ruling party in a stronger position ahead of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

The opposition boycotted the last vote in 2010 because of concerns of vote-rigging, giving an easy victory to President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Jean Claude Nkundwa, a Burundian peace activist living in the United States, has concerns about the next vote, given the current political conditions.

“There is a need of support of this election process which is coming to ensure it is fair and transparent.  And it will not be fair and transparent if the democratic principles are not respected,” he said.

Nkundwa is a survivor of the ethnic conflict that took place in Burundi more than 20 years ago, along the same Hutu-Tutsi lines as the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Since then, political reforms helped promote reconciliation in the country.  But now, Nkundwa says he fears Burundi is sliding backwards.

“It's getting dangerous because the frustration has always been the cause of war.  If people feel the needs of justice are not met, people try to express themselves and they crackdown, then in the end there is [an] explosion,” he said.

Civil society groups are also concerned about constitutional changes proposed by the ruling party that would reduce the powers of the vice president, among other changes to the existing balance of power.

Activists have accused the ruling party of trying to change the laws to allow a third term for President Nkurunziza.  The government, strongly denies the allegation and says the proposed changes will put the country more in line with the political systems of its East African neighbors.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid