Review: Violence in Burundi

“If they see me alive, they’ll kill me”: Burundi refugees filling up camps across the border. This is going to be the first review article done by the International Cauldron and as the title suggests it will be based upon the conflicts in Burundi due to political turmoil. The original article was published by ‘Vice News’ on the 11th of July 2015 is linked below.

The article revolves around the story of ‘John’ who does not reveal his full name, and he is among the approximately 150,000 people who have fled Burundi due to the raging political violence. After Burundi’s first democratically elected president was assassinated in 1993 the country fell into the claws of ethnic based civil war. Even though the Hutu Tutsi conflict was made famous by Rwanda, Burundi too lost more than 200,000 of its population due to this conflict. The internally displaced people stood at hundreds of thousands during this period. However after a transition process a new constitution and a majority Hutu government was formed in 2005 ending the violence. Pierre Nkurunziza was ‘appointed’ as the president by the parliament in 2005 and was reelected in 2010. The violence in Burundi today has little to do with the historical ethnic based factors. Now it’s political. Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he will be campaigning for president for a third term in April 2015. This resulted in protests opposing his decision claiming that it is illegal and against the constitution for a president to run for three terms. He justifies his decision stating that he was not ‘elected’ the first time hence it is legally possible for him to campaign again. This acts as the prime cause of violence today in the country.

John bares a six inch scar on his abdomen, as a result of an attack by the Imbonerakure, the Burundian ruling party’s youth wing. The same attack which was carried out at his family home killed his father and as John claims the reason was his father being a member of the opposition. Even though this particular incident took place two years ago, it gives a vivid picture of Burundi today as the same youth wing has taken violent measures to suppress President Nkurunziza’s opposition.  Burundi embraced this turmoil since the 26th of April this year when President Nkurunziza and the ruling CNDD-FDD party announced the president’s decision to contest for a third term. This resulted in government sponsored repression of any opposition to this claim. Many have fled the country to neighboring countries, mainly Rwanda. Spes Caritas Ndironkeye, the second top Burundian election official too is reported to have fled to Rwanda with her daughter due to the escalating violence.

Nkurunziza survived a coup attempt in May this year which escalated the violence. The rebel army which attempted but failed to overthrow the president stands as the main opposition to the Imbonerakure. The UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein told the UN Security Council that “the risk to human life, and to regional stability and development, is high”. He claims that his office has documented many killings over past two months mainly of shootings carried out by the youth wing and security forces at opposition demonstrations.

John speaks to VICE news from Mahama Refugee camp in Rwanda, which grew to hold 30,000 Burundians in just 10 weeks. Jeff Drumtra, the external relations officer for UNHCR who oversees the refugee camp shares that many refugees claim that “messages were posted on the doors of their homes saying their time was short, they were known to be opponents of the government, and that they had to fall in line, or be dealt with”.

“They say killing is not the problem, they say by killing they are removing the problem”

The above are the words of Joseph who shares a tent with John at the Mahama camp.

Even though ethnicity is not a factor of Burundi’s violence, many do fear that the government may align with ethnic based militia groups in neighboring countries to consolidate their power further. This surely would destabilize Burundi further. Neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda fear a spillover effect that might destabilize the already fragile nation states.

The Mahama refugee camp which was first established as a temporary shelter for few weeks is now turning into a permanent resident to more and more Burundians. The food grows scarce as well as the space that can accommodate these refugees is highly over utilized. This situation is common to all the refugee camps that provide shelter for this displacesd community. Drumtra states that “even if there were a political solution tomorrow, people are so afraid and intimidated; they tell us they have no intention of going home just because there’s something on paper saying it’s being settled”.

Term Limits

The idea of “term limits” for presidents can be traced backed as a western policy. It was introduced in 1951 as the 22nd constitutional amendment in the United States. However some European countries such as Italy and Switzerland have no term limits. Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew held the post of Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990 but stands out as an exceptional figure in the political arena as Singapore’s GDP was over a dozen times higher than the time he took over. “If you look at the public opinion data we have on most African countries, a majority of people in Africa supports presidential term limits”. There are the words of Professor Nic  Cheeseman of Oxford University. Further he claims that “this isn’t simply something being pushed by the west.”

It is also argued that term limits are vital to prevent leaders from being influenced by the “Hubris Syndrome”. Former British foreign secretary and trained psychiatrist, Lord Owen holds a similar view. He states that when some leaders have been in power for too long they tend to be arrogant, unwilling to listen and overly optimistic that their decisions are right and will bring positive results always. Basically the supporters of term limits say that no term limits can disrupt the thinking capacity and character of leaders.

Wilf Mbanga links symptoms of the Hubris Symptom to Robert Mugabe, the seven term President of Zimbabwe. Mbanga once closely associated Mugabe and was a loyal supporter but today Mbanga states that Mugabe has changed, “Now he believes he owns Zimbabwe”.

Despite your opinion on term limits it is evident that the lust for power is dragging Burundi into chaos. It is not a factor indigenous to Burundi itself, rather seen commonly in the developing world. Presidents and leaders taste power and then grow hesitant to step down even at the cost of thousands of lives. This leaves a dark trail of violence, bloodshed and barriers for development in expense for personal political gain.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”

~Abraham Lincoln~



  • “Deadly Clashes as UN Warns of More Violence in Burundi.”– Al Jazeera English. N.p., 11 July 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/burundi-violence-150711071259662.html>.
  • “World Factbook: Burundi.”Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 24 June 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/by.html>.
  • Jones, Owen Bennett. “The Arrogance of Power – BBC News.”BBC News. N.p., 13 July 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-33475303>.
  • “Election Official Flees Crisis-hit Burundi.”– Al Jazeera English. N.p., 30 May 2015. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/election-official-flees-crisis-hit-burundi-150530124830312.html>.


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