NAIROBI, Kenya, May 11 – Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s insistence on running for a third term has already sparked deadly protests at home and now threatens to destabilise an already volatile region.
Analysts warn that without an urgent solution, the current street protests in Burundi could escalate into a regional crisis that spreads far beyond the small central African country, including fears it might draw in neighbouring Rwanda, and create far more refugees than the 50,000 who have already fled.
Beyond the demonstrations in Bujumbura, the bigger concern is that the current crisis could jeopardise the Arusha Agreement, which brought peace to Burundi after years of civil war.
The deal included an ethnic power-sharing formula that helped end fighting that raged from 1993 to 2006 between the mostly Tutsi army and predominately Hutu rebel groups.
“The return to violence would not only end the peace progressively restored since the Arusha agreement, it would also have destabilising consequences in the region and mark a failure in peace building,” the International Crisis Group said in a report issued before the protests began.
“The country’s relapse into violence would be a pitiful outcome for the guarantors of the Arusha agreement and could fuel regional crisis.”
– Rebels and ethnic conflict –
At least 19 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April when the ruling CNDD-FDD — a Hutu-dominated party — nominated Nkurunziza for re-election.
The United Nations has warned that 400,000 people could be affected in a worst-case scenario should upcoming elections turn violent.
Leaders of the five-nation East African Community — made up of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda as well as Burundi — are to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis on Wednesday in Tanzania.
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are also due to attend.
Burundi’s 13-year civil war between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus ended in 2006, but the region still struggles with the same tensions and the knock-on effects of each other’s crises.
Eastern DR Congo has been ravaged by decades of conflict, with the lawless region allowing the growth of rebel groups that reflect regional ethnic and political government and opposition forces.
Tanzania, which has hosted vast numbers of refugees from multiple rounds of conflict, is also worried.