Burundi Vote Campaign Begins In Shadow Of Violence And COVID-19

On Monday, Burundi’s political parties started campaigning for next month’s presidential elections despite opposition accusations of intimidation, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In Burundi, there has only been one death and fifteen Coronavirus cases found with minimal symptoms; thus, authorities are pushing for the May 20th vote, searching for a successor for the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, an ex-rebel leader. His foremost opponent is the opposition party’s candidate Agathon Rwasa, who currently serves as a Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly, and also served as a former rebel leader.

Burundi differs from much of the world, as it has yet to put restrictions on gatherings or internal travel due to Coronavirus. Therefore, campaigning is unlikely to be affected.

However, the campaign is not the only major event affecting Burundi as of late. A United Nations report from last year accused security forces and the ruling party of gang rapes, torture, and killings. CNL, the opposition party, has also accused the police of carrying out killings and enforced disappearances of its members. The Burundi government spokesman, Prosper Ntahorwamiye, told Reuters in a WhatsApp message that he had no comment.

Between January and March, an exiled Burundian rights group called Ligue Iteka documented 67 killings, including fourteen extrajudicial executions, as well as six disappearances. Lewis Mudge, a Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said that “These elections will be accompanied by more abuses, as Burundian officials and members of the Imbonerakure are using violence with near-total impunity to allow the ruling party to entrench its hold on power.” Imbonerakuere, which translate to “those who see far” in the local Kirundi language, is the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing members. They have attacked foes of the government.

These failures of human rights are obviously difficult to deal with. While entering the country, and dealing with them personally is far too close to the historical paths of colonialism and should not be done, countries should reflect on the aforementioned United Nations report and begin shaming these nations for their clear human rights abuses.

All around the world, rights groups are afraid that this pandemic is giving repressive governments the perfect opportunity to crack down on their opponents in order to successfully consolidate their power. In order to stop this, more prominent states should fight back by sanctioning the governments that are not testing nor ordering citizens to stay at home in order to protect themselves from the Coronavirus.

This shaming based on COVID-19 will hopefully bring attention to the repressive government of Burundi, which, after the far more pressing issue of the pandemic, can then be brought back into the spotlight in order to better deal with the human rights abuses based around the opposition party. The process may be slow, but it will inevitably make the world a bit better.

Nkurunziza has been in power since the end of the nation’s civil war in 2005, which killed 3000 people. In 2015, he ran for a third term. According to his opposition, this violated the terms of the peace deal that was created after the civil war between the two. This decision triggered a number of violent protests and a failed coup in Burundi, which has a population of 11 million people. Since then, almost half a million people have fled, the economy has taken a major downturn, and political violence, primarily at lower levels, has steadily remained.

There are currently five other candidates running for President, including Gaston Sindimwo, the first Vice President; and former President Domicien Ndayizeye.

Although there is very little that can currently be done about these human rights abuses, if powerful governments are able to draw attention to these sorts of transgressions, through the lens of Coronavirus, hopefully, once this pandemic ends, we can better understand the cruelty through which many of these repressive governments put their citizens and opponents through, and put a stop to it.