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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs