Former peacekeeping role model tries to reject peacekeepers

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis


Burundi has consistently been one of the largest contributors to African Union peacekeeping forces for years, but when it comes time for an AU deployment in Burundi suddenly Burundi is a champion of national “sovereignty” and freedom from peacekeeper interference…

“Burundi lawmakers reject AU peacekeeping offer despite spiralling violence” – France24:

Burundi’s parliament on Monday criticised a proposed African Union peacekeeping mission already dismissed by the government as an “invasion force”.


Burundi: Political mass murder or ethnic mass murder?

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis

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Flag of Burundi

Cold comfort from Human Rights Watch — France 24 – “Burundi’s worsening crisis ‘is political, not ethnic’”:

“It’s a different situation from the 1990s,” she said. “This is not an ethnic conflict but a political one, pitting a president who is clinging on to power against a variety of opponents.”

Tertsakian said a handful of politicians had indulged in some sort of ethnic rhetoric to whip up support, but that they had largely failed to ethnicise the crisis.

She added that people targeted by security forces included both Tutsis and Hutus opposed to Nkurunziza.

Nearly a hundred people were killed on a single day in capital clashes with security forces last week.

Last month:
“Burundi appears to be sliding into full-blown meltdown”

Burundi appears to be sliding into full-blown meltdown

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis

Until recently, a major African ally of the United States and a purported model for other African nations. Now, a mass exodus from the capital, daily body dumps of assassinated figures, and a fracturing military.


“Burundians flee capital over fears of violence” – France24, November 6, 2015:

Thousands of residents have fled the Burundian capital of Bujumbura in recent days over fears of escalating violence as the United Nations warned there was a risk that the central African country could slip back into civil war.
Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) also drew attention to dangerous “hardline rhetoric” in Burundi, drawing parallels with the hate-filled climate that led to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

United Nations statement, via, November 7, 2015:

The statement said the Secretary-General is alarmed that in recent weeks, the discovery of the bodies of civilian victims, many apparently summarily executed, has become a regular occurrence in several neighbourhoods of Bujumbura, where just today, Welly Nzitonda, the son of prominent Burundian human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was found dead following his arrest by the police in the morning.

Further, Mr. Ban in the statement also condemned public statements that appear to be aimed at inciting violence or hatred towards different groups in Burundian society.

“Inflammatory rhetoric is reprehensible and dangerous; it will only serve to aggravate the situation in the country. [The Secretary-General] calls for accountability for those who have engaged in publicly inciting violence,” the statement said.


The ethnically mixed military from the 2005 peace accords, even in the face of a renegade coup attempt in May, had largely been a lone rock of stability in the face of mounting ethno-political tensions earlier this year. Less than a month ago, reports emerged that that too looks increasingly precarious…

“Burundi: Cracks Widen Within Burundi’s Army,” IRIN, October 12:

A recent post on a Burundi news blog by Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said the [integrated military] was “dangerously close to rupture.”

IRIN’s interviews with more than a dozen people, including leading Burundian civilians, analysts and members of the military, indicate that a faction of former Hutu rebels has embarked on a campaign of harassing, abducting, detaining, and in some cases killing, members of the army’s old guard, as well as others perceived to oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza, himself a former rebel leader.

This October assessment marks a stark contrast with International Crisis Group’s prior assessment that institutional divisions designed in by the Arusha Accords of 2005 “could ironically help the army stay together.”

One wonders if it could, after all, go the way of South Sudan’s “unified” military which has now splintered back into rival ethnic groups from the former rebel factions before independence.

The United States suspended military cooperation and its major training program in Burundi back in July. In August, the president openly announced his intention to expand “patriotic” teenage death squads.

Burundi president pledges to expand teen death squads

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis

Agence France-Presse: “Groups threatening Burundi security must be destroyed: president”

Burundi’s president on Wednesday called for groups that threaten national security to be “destroyed”, setting a combative and hardline tone as he begins a controversial third term in office.

In a speech read out on state media, Pierre Nkurunziza said young people would be given “patriotic, theoretical and practical training” to work alongside the central African nation’s security forces.

“These mixed security committees will be asked to work day and night so that groups which seek to only kill and upset security, especially inside Bujumbura, will be destroyed and so that we won’t be talking about them two months from now,” he said.

He urged “all people to rise up as one, and to work with security forces so that this promise can be kept”.

Burundi has a very low median age — half the population is aged 17 or younger, according to the CIA World Factbook — although a number of other sub-Saharan African countries actually have even younger populations. Just shy of 1 in 10 people in Burundi is a young man or boy in the 15-24 age bracket.

Well before the violent election cycle the President had essentially created paramilitary teen death squads by arming teenage members of his political party’s “youth wing,” known as the Imbonerakure. This was particularly troubling to many in light of its similarities with the Interahamwe Hutu militias in neighboring Rwanda during its 1994 genocide. (Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party is the political arm of a Hutu rebel force from its own civil war period.) The new announcement from President Nkurunziza can be interpreted as a call to expand these Burundian youth militias significantly.

In early July, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein specifically condemned the Imbonerakure’s role in the political violence surrounding the election:

He said his office has documented dozens of killings in the past two months, most of them shootings of demonstrators and human rights defenders by the youth wing and security forces. Zeid urged the government to disarm the Imbonerakure youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party immediately.

Earlier, at the end of May, leaders of the other four East African Community member countries (that is, not including Burundi) met in Tanzania to discuss the crisis and issued a statement also spotlighting the Imbonerakure:

“The summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half,” said the statement on Sunday.

The leaders also called for the “disarmament of all armed youth groups” and for the “creation of conditions for the return of refugees”.

The United States suspended one of its largest security training programs in Africa in response to widespread violence by Burundian security forces.

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Flag of Burundi

US suspends big security aid programs in Burundi

Due to elections violence and continued risk of coup during the 2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis, State Department and DOD pull the plug on Burundi for military and non-military security aid. The huge US peacekeeping training program is halted:

In response to the abuses committed by members of the police during political protests, we are suspending all International Law Enforcement Academy and Anti-Terrorism Assistance training that we provide to Burundian law enforcement agencies.

Recognizing that Burundi’s National Defense Force has generally acted professionally in protecting civilians during protests, the United States continues to value our partnership with the Burundian military and urges them to maintain professionalism and respect for the rule of law.

However, due to the instability caused by the Burundian Government’s disregard for the Arusha Agreement and its decision to proceed with flawed parliamentary elections, the United States is unable to conduct peacekeeping and other training in Burundi. As a result, the United States has suspended upcoming training for the Burundian military under the Department of Defense’s Section 1206 Train and Equip program, as well as training and assistance under the Africa Military Education Program.

We remain deeply concerned that the current crisis will further hamper our ability to support the important contribution of the Burundian military to international peacekeeping.

To get a sense of scale for this news, as previously noted on AFD, via The Wall Street Journal:

After Nigeria — a country 18 times more populous — the U.S. trained more soldiers in Burundi than any other sub-Saharan African country between 2007 and 2014, according to publicly available data from the U.S. State Department. In the first nine months of 2014, 6,298 soldiers from the tiny country went through courses including advanced special operations, language classes and counterterrorism studies.


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Flag of Burundi

Rwanda joins the Third-Termism bandwagon

As long expected, Rwanda’s parliament has joined neighboring Congo and Burundi (and beyond) in bids to repeal constitutionally-imposed term limits on their presidencies. France24:

The debate, set to take place over the next two months, was prompted by parliament being handed petitions signed by a total of two million people – or roughly 17 percent of the population – asking for the constitution to be changed, the head of the chamber, Donatilla Mukabalisa, told AFP.

“We have received two million requests,” she said, explaining that parliament has been receiving a number of what she insisted were spontaneous letters and petitions from individuals, groups or associations.

However, there are two significant differences in the Rwanda case, although all involve relatively authoritarian elected leaders.

The first is that Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is already now in his 15th year in office (3 of them under an older constitution and 10 under the 2003 constitution) and the term length at the moment is a whopping 7 years. That length used to be more common under constitutions inspired by the French constitution of 1958, but it had fallen out of favor in most places some time ago and was removed in France itself in 2000. 4-5 years is the prevailing world standard for presidents and prime ministers at this point. Kagame’s new “first” term (after the 2003 constitution) was from 2003 to 2010. His second term began in 2010 and will not end until 2017. He would therefore have served a full 17 years as President of Rwanda even before embarking on a “third” term under the proposed constitutional revision now under consideration. Were he to serve out that term as well, and assuming that the term lengths are not shortened when the limit is lifted, Mr. Kagame would have served for an uninterrupted 24 years. As usual, his relationship with democracy is superficial and procedural at best.

The second is that, unlike many of the sub-Saharan African leaders who have been trying to remove term limits in the past year, Paul Kagame is widely supported enthusiastically by the international community to the point of getting a free pass on most abusive actions. It will be interesting to see which allies, if any, part ways with him over this issue after so much Western criticism of efforts to lift term limits in other countries.

Lessons from Burundi’s post-Civil War constitution

The following is an installment in my ongoing series on the 2015 Burundian constitutional crisis.

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Flag of Burundi

After reading the 2005 French-language Burundian constitution myself, I have tentatively come to the conclusion that the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, is technically constitutionally allowed to seek another term — but only by deliberately misconstruing some poor word choices in the text. First, I present my textual analysis to develop this finding. Second, are my recommendations on what lessons can be drawn from this crisis, in terms of future drafting of documents to guide political transitions and post-transition foundations.

Basically, there are two conflicting elements in the text. Article 302 stipulated that the first “post-transition” president — which ended up being Mr. Nkurunziza — specifically had to be elected by both chambers of parliament, rather than the voters directly, “on a purely exceptional basis”:

A titre exceptionnel, le premier Président de la République de la période post-transition est élu par l’Assemblée Nationale et le Sénat élus réunis en Congrès, à la majorité des deux tiers des membres.

(My direct translation: “On a purely exceptional basis, the first President of the Republic of the post-transition period is chosen by the elected National Assembly and Senate assembled in Congress, with a two-thirds majority of the members.”)

But at the same time, Article 96 states that (in general, presumably): “The President of the Republic” is to be “elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term renewable once”:

Le Président de la République est élu au suffrage universel direct pour un mandat de cinq ans renouvelable une fois.

So President Nkurunziza’s argument is that because he was indirectly elected under Article 302 in 2005 and then elected directly to a five-year term in 2010 that means he is eligible to renew his term one more time by direct election. Which is pretty sketchy — but a literally acceptable interpretation of the text, since Article 96 failed to take the lingering effects of Article 302 (which falls under the “Special Provisions” Title XV) explicitly into account.

Lessons: The wording of Article 96 is grammatically and syntactically stitched together for elegant efficiency rather than explicit clarity, which now seems to have been a mistaken decision. I believe one of the former Burundian Supreme Court members labeled it against the “spirit” of the document and the Arusha Accords that preceded it, even if it was perhaps a textually permitted interpretation.

Of course, there’s little likelihood that preventing this loophole could have avoided the current situation entirely, given that the President was determined to amend the constitution anyway, until he discovered he could use the loophole instead and avoid the hassle. Clearly he had an agenda, with or without this language error. Still, it has needlessly provided him a very convenient shield for his actions. And that, at least, could indeed have been avoided.

Recommendation to future transitional/foundational document drafters: Break up your sentences. And account for deliberate misinterpretations of conflicting provisions. If it had said “The President of the Republic is elected by direct universal suffrage. A presidential term is five years in length and renewable once” there would likely be no way to misread it intentionally. By joining those three thoughts (direct election AND term length AND term limit) into one sentence, it made the term limit contingent upon the election method, which itself had been exceptionally overridden in the other article for the purposes of the first post-transition term only.

While this subject may seem excessively narrow to which to devote a detailed analysis, I bring up these observations about the importance of precise drafting because I found it to be similar to Burkina Faso’s incredibly messy constitutional revisions that (apparently inadvertently!) left literally no one in line to succeed the presidency upon a vacancy, forcing — or at least facilitating and quasi-legitimizing — a military coup when the president resigned unilaterally. These decisions on wording can have far-reaching implications years later.