"Burundi totters on the brink of chaos"
BURUNDI STILL FACES many obstacles in its quest for peace, despite the recent historic signing of a peace agreement between the government and the last holdout rebel group – the Forces for National Liberation (FNL).
Indeed, the ceasefire deal came against the background of rising political tensions in the country.
Analysts now say that unless the underlying causes of the tensions are addressed, the peace deal will not hold for long.
Early last month, the Burundi government carried out a wave of arrests of prominent opposition politicians, accusing them of plotting a coup.
So far, the government has not produced any evidence to back up the arrests, whose suspects include former president Domitien Ndayizeye and former Vice-President Alphonse Marie Kadege.
These events have taken place in a climate of deepening distrust between the government on one hand and the political opposition and the press on the other.
According to observers, this is hardly the environment to nurture a lasting peace agreeement.
The root cause of the the crisis in Burundi is the inability, or unwillingness by the ruling elite to share power and resources in accordance with a power-sharing formular agreed several years ago.
Indeed, relations between the government, led by the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), deteriorated shortly after elections in 2005.
After winning a majority in local as well as parliamentary elections, the CNDD-FDD did not conform to the constitutional provisions regarding the distribution of ministerial seats, which was supposed to be based on the respective parties’ strength in parliament.
Three ministries who were supposed to have have been given to his main competitors – UPRONA and FRODEBU – were surprisingly given to smaller Tutsi parties.
The decision-making process in government has also been characterised by a lack of inclusion, as some major policy decisions were not debated either in the council of ministers or presented to parliament for approval.
Consequently, FRODEBU decided to drop out of President Pierre Nkurunziza's government in March 2006.
More problems emerged as the ruling party started experiencing internal divisions. Two weeks ago, the Vice-President Alice Nzomukunda, one of the leading figures in the CNDD-FDD, resigned, accusing her party of mismanagement.
Critics have also accused the ruling party of disrespect for the rule of law.
Soon after its inauguration, the government launched military operations against the last remaining rebel group, the Palipehutu-FNL.
IN THE COURSE OF THESE operations, it arbitrarily arrested several hundred civilians suspected of colluding with the rebels.
The National Intelligence Service has been directing the crackdown on political dissenters.
Human rights groups and the UN have documented numerous cases of torture and extrajudicial execution perpetrated by security agents during the crack-down.
Intelligence officers also tortured three of the Tutsi suspects in the coup plot, rekindling fears of ethnic violence for the first time in several years.
Neither has the government performed any better in the area of economic governance. The ruling party has been widely criticised for interfering in public procurement, fuelling suspicions that the CNDD-FDD is using state offices to fill party coffers.
Already, both the European Union and the World Bank have expressed concern at corruption. The bank has suspended part of its budgetary aid pending an audit of some of the project it supports.
According to the new constitution, the president is elected by the national assembly, and he in-turn names two vice-presidents from different ethnicities and political parties.
Ministerial positions are then allocated based on how many seats each party has in parliament. Parties with more than five per cent of the vote have a right to at least one of the 20 seats in government.
The first altercation between the parties in government arose due to appointment of vice-presidents and ministers, whom the president hand-picked himself, in some instances without conferring with the political parties of the appointees.
Nkurunziza named Martin Nduwimana and Alice Nzomukunda, from the UPRONA and CNDD-FDD parties respectively, as first and second vice-presidents.
This was interpreted by FRODEBU as a deliberate snub, as it is by far the second strongest party with 30 out of 118 seats in parliament.
Nonetheless, the decision conformed to the letter if not necessarily to the spirit of the constitution, as the president is free to nominate anybody as long as they are from different ethnic backgrounds and political parties.
Nkurunziza also did not consult with UPRONA before nominating the Minister of Planning, Marie Goreth Nizigama, which, although again not in violation of the constitution, led to Nizigama not being initially recognised by her own party leadership.
The second conflict arose due to the nomination of ministers. Given the strength of the respective parties in parliament, five ministers should have come from FRODEBU and two from UPRONA.
Instead, however, only three FRODEBU ministers and one from UPRONA were appointed while three parties that had fewer than five per cent of seats in parliament – Party for National Recovery (PARENA), Movement for the Rehabilitation of the Citizen (MRC) and Inkinzo PARENA, MRC and Inkinzo – were granted one seat each.
The ruling party has argued that it did so to include smaller parties in the running of the country, but it was telling that the redistribution only affected UPRONA and FRODEBU positions, while CNDD-FDD kept their full portfolio of seats.
This act was clearly unconstitutional, and FRODEBU filed a case with the constitutional court.
After a month of deliberation, Nkurunziza changed two of the members of the constitutional court. Subsequently, the court issued a verdict against FRODEBU, arguing that, even if FRODEBU was right, by declaring the appointment of the relevant ministers as unconstitutional, all of these ministers’ decrees and decisions since they came into office would have to be invalidated, which could cause a crisis in government.
It also emerged that in implementing these nominations, the ruling party had manipulated internal divisions within FRODEBU, as the party was split into a faction led by Jean Minani and another led by Leonce Ngedakumana, who was voted to replace Minani at the head of the party in late 2005.
IN MARCH 2006, THE TENSIONS between these two rival parties led to the departure of FRODEBU from government. Tellingly, their three ministers in government refused to resign and continue to hold their positions.
Major disagreements also arose with regard to nominations of people to senior positions in government.
According to the constitution, the president has the the right to name governors, judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, directors of state companies and high-ranking administrative officials.
In some cases, the head of state must consult the vice-presidents, and all the appointments must be approved by the senate.
But the system has not worked because of the lopsided nature of power where 65 per cent of the senate is composedof CNDD-FDD members.
Although one of the vice-presidents is from UPRONA, he has never turned down the nomination of officials.
The CNDD-FDD’s control over these appointments has led to sweeping changes in public administration with most positions going to the CNDD-FDD.
In July 2006, three FRODEBU communal administrators were dismissed by the governors of Bujumbura town and Bujumbura Rural respectively, based on accusations of corruption and disobedience.
The administrators were members of FRODEBU, while the governors belong to the CNDD-FDD. As the minister of the interior later explained, the dismissals were in violation of the communal law, as the administrators are appointed and replaced by the communal councils, which in these cases had not been consulted properly.
Despite the remonstration by the minister, new administrators from the CNDD-FDD were appointed shortly afterwards and approved by the communal councils.
The regime of repression has also targeted civil society actors. In May, Terence Nahimana, a local NGO leader, was arrested for threatening state security after he warned that the Burundi government could invade the Congo in pursuit of the FNL. He has been in preventive detention since. His trial has been set for November 23.
Indeed, the fierce rivalry between CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU, the two main Hutu parties, has created a climate of insecurity that has been unprecedented since the last elections.
It is an environment where all deaths and kilings are interpreted in the context of this rivalry.
On May 31, 2005, unidentified assailants killed a CNDD-FDD candidate in Bujumbura Rural. On June 2, 2005, two FRODEBU candidates and eight supporters in Bubanza Province were assassinated and, several weeks later, there was a grenade attack on a bar in Bujumbura owned by a prominent FRODEBU politician where two of the party's members were killed.
The transition to democracy has also been undermined by a weak and divided opposition.
When the CNDD-FDD took power in September 2005, its main opposition came from the other main traditionally Hutu party – FRODEBU.
While Nkurunziza’s party is just short of the two thirds majority it requires to pass laws, its competitors are two weak and internally divided to put up much resistance.
His party's dominance in the eight parliamentary commissions, all of which are presided over by CNDD-FDD parliamentarians, has strengthened its grip over the legislature. A review of laws passed since the inauguration of the government shows little to no dissent to any of the legislation signed.
Parliament has also not lived up to its duty of supervising the executive.
Similarly, the president has until now easily obtained the requisite signatures of his two vice-presidents – Martin Nduwimana from UPRONA and Alice Nzomukunda from CNDD-FDD – he needs to issue decrees.
FRODEBU entered the new parliament weakened by an internal leadership struggle between Minani, who was the president of the party during the transition, and Ndengakumana, who replaced him in late 2005.
Despite the restructuring of the party in 2005, it retains weak control over its members.
Three of its parliamentarians have defected from the party. Of its remaining 27 members in the national assembly, around half do not follow Ndengakumana’s lead in voting.
When FRODEBU decided to withdraw from government in March, over half of its members in the national assembly wrote a letter in protest.
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Burundi, human rights, Current Affairs, Politics, Africa