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Burundi is the converging point of the African Great Lakes region and East Africa, but finding political stability in its presidential situation has been a complex, unanswered concern for Burundians. The world anticipates seeing fair, impartial voting in the upcoming May 20th elections largely because Incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza has promised to step aside after 15 years in office. According to The Conversation, Evariste Ndayishimiye an Army General is the selected new candidate.
Since Nkurunziza and the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy–Forces for the Defence of Democracy, took office in 1993, intimidation of political opponents, electoral fraud and human rights violations have steadily grown. Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Lewis Mudge said “Violence and repression have been the hallmark of politics in Burundi since 2015, and as elections approach and the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, tensions are rising. There is little doubt 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.”
Given the lack of transparency in government activities, there have been uncountable inhumane and violent situations, Burundians have been suffering in the last five years. Sadly, between January and March, Lingue Iteka, an exiled Burundian local human rights organization, documented 67 killings, including 14 extrajudicial executions, six disappearances, 15 cases of gender-based violence, 23 cases of torture, and 204 arbitrary arrests. This, and Nkurunziza’s violations of the constitution, has resulted in an estimated number of over 335,000 Burundians who have migrated to neighboring countries.
As of April 2020, it is unclear why the government has not signed collaboration agreements with the East African Community and African Union-mandated human rights observers. Blocking independent monitors, denying access to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and shutting down the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi are some decisions that were made to prevent foreign monitoring of government policies in Bujumbura. Locally, PARCEM is the only surviving independent rights organization. It was suspended in June 2019 for “tarnishing the image of the country and its leaders.” In March 2019, about 93 out of an estimated 130 decided to re-register to work given a law by the government that the organisation should declare the names and ethnicities of their Burundian staff.
Additionally, Imbonerakure members and local authorities have meted human rights abuses spanning beatings, killings, and intimidating CNL members, a party established by opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, since February 2019.
HRW’s Mudge said, “Burundi’s donors and partners should take a strong public stance against the government’s measures to clamp down on free expression and quash dissent.” External influence from global organs such as the UN, regional bodies, such as the African Union (AU), and some countries condemning this administration has been futile.
For the sake of the hundreds of children who have become orphans and the uncountable widows and suffering politicians in hiding, the Nkurunziza administration should endeavor to restore Burundi’s peace. This stability can only come from an internal decision. Change is possible even if political figures do not change. The election should be conducted freely and results should be respected for the mental, health, social, and economic well being of all Burundians.