In preparation for a controversial referendum, the Central African country Burundi is nervous.
Thursday's referendum would not only extend the reign of President Pierre Nkurunziza until 2034, but would also take back some important aspects of the Arusha Agreement, which paved the way for the end of the long and bloody civil war in 2005. that the referendum could trigger more violence in the country.
Yolande Bouka, a research associate at the University of Denver who has studied Burundi's current political crisis in detail, says the proposed constitutional amendment "makes it easier for the ruling party to assert itself". For example, it gives the president more powers to control the legislative agenda and makes it easier for the president to minimize the influence of other political parties and ethnic minorities.
"The basis on which the Arusha Agreement was drafted to broaden the political system to avoid the kind of violence Burundi has experienced since the 1
In a sense, Burundi already sees some of the consequences of consolidating power in the country.
Human rights groups have denounced that the prelude to this referendum was marked by intimidation, beatings and even killings. In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch described more than a dozen cases of intimidation, many of which were affected by Imbonerakure, the governing party's youth association.
A man, reports Human Rights Watch, went home to a roadblock by Imbonerakure members. He could not prove that he had registered for election, and the young men beat him and shouted at him that he did not vote against the referendum.
Reached by phone, Ndayizeye Sylvestre, chairman of the Imbonerakure, did not talk to the media about the referendum or the allegations against the group.
However, the government has vehemently rejected any repression that the reports call propaganda. Last month, the government blocked a supporter calling for the drowning of government opponents and the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces to Defend Democracy (CNDD-FDD), published an explanation that they were "surprised" by the comments. They added, "The party calls on all its members to exercise political tolerance and demands justice in this case."
The recent Burundi outbreak of violence began in 2015. President Nkurinziza came to power when the war ended in 2005 , announced he would aim for a third term. Critics called it illegal because the constitution based on the Arusha Agreement of 2000 restricted a president to two terms. In the end, Nkurunziza prevailed in court, arguing that he was elected by Parliament in 2005 and not by the people, so he was entitled to a third term.
His party splintered and everything came to a head when one of his former allies tried a coup d'état. Nkurinziza survived, but the country has since been in a slow conflict.
The now-banned human rights group ITEKA League found that between April 2015 and May 2018, 1,710 people were murdered, 558 were tortured, and more than 8,000 were arrested. Over the same period, more than 400,000 Burundi fled the conflict to neighboring countries.
A commission established by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2016 has repeatedly stated that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed in Burundi and that in a country with a history of tribal violence, heads of government have "used" ethnic attacks create dangerous climate of hatred [that] could revive ethnic tensions. "
Stephanie Mbankendore, head of Burundian Women for Peace and Development, an organization focused on reconciliation, said that after Nkurunziza took power in 2005, she was hopeful that she had left Burundi in 1994, but the government was open and inclusive, she said.
After 2015, she says things have changed.
"Again, this split came back. Now we're talking more and more about ethnic groups, "she said," and I hope we come back when we talk about inclusiveness … when you felt that this is my country, not because you have that or that But because you are a Burundian. "
Bouka sees this referendum as a naked power of Nkurunziza and she says it goes beyond tribal conflicts between the majority and minority Tutsi.
" Some of these measures are not just exclude the Tutsi minority. They should also undermine the ability of the political elites on the Hutu side to challenge Nkurinziza and other people in his circle, "she said.
Back in 2015, Bouka points out that it was Hutus who stood a chance who wanted a presidency that started a rebellion that turned into months of violent violence.