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

Sambisa Forest Stands Between Nigeria, Victory Over Boko Haram

Military takes back nearly all towns, villages in northeast, except for massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states More

Islamic State Recruiting Stokes Fears for Parents in Georgia

Chechens are a notable part of Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, and analysts fear what might happen if those fighters return to the Caucasus More

Yarmouk Camp Becomes Distant Memory for Palestinian Diaspora

Once thriving capital of Palestinian diaspora, after siege by Syrian government forces and Islamic State group, camp becomes 'deepest circle of hell' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'i
X
Sharon Behn
April 21, 2015 9:18 PM
A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten. Sharon Behn reports on the politics of the word genocide on the 100th anniversary of the events.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video German Program Helps Migrants Overcome Traumatic Experience at Sea

Migrants fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia risk life and limb to reach safety in Europe. Those who have made it to European shores are traumatized by the experience. A program in Germany helps survivors overcome the trauma by giving a new perspective to their catastrophic experience. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs