Voters in Burundi are deciding whether to accept a power-sharing constitution designed to end more than a decade of ethnic conflict. More than three million Burundians are registered to vote on the proposed document, which gives Hutus 60 percent of the seats in the national assembly, and the remaining 40 percent to Tutsi parties.
Under the new constitution, both groups will share equal control of the army and the police force. Burundi's minority Tutsis have dominated politics and the military since independence from Belgium in 1962. Monday’s vote is Burundi's first since 1993, when Melchior Ndadaye became the first democratically elected Hutu in the nation's history. His assassination by Tutsi soldiers sparked a civil war that killed more than a quarter of a million people.
Hussein Soloman, director of the Center for International Political Studies at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, says the draft constitution represents a consensus among Hutu and Tutsi moderates. This, despite opposition to the document by three Tutsi political parties and one Hutu group, and despite the fact that the Tutsi, who represent 15 percent of Burundi, will receive more than that percentage in the new national assembly, government, and army. Professor Soloman says the broad support among the ethnic elites mirrors popular support for an end to years of civil war.
Burundi’s draft constitution differs from the solution to ethnic violence used in neighboring Rwanda. Burundi's northern neighbor has similar demographics, but experienced a genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu in 1994. A Tutsi-led army ended the killings in Kigali, and the Rwandan government says it does its best to eliminate any official vestiges of ethnicity, such as ethnic identity cards. But Professor Soloman says Burundi’s approach, which deals openly with the question of ethnicity and political power, may be a better solution. He says ethnic rivalry remains a political problem in many parts of Africa, and that suppressing ethnic identity may cause the issue to reassert itself as a political problem in the future.