No End in Sight to Political Violence in Burundi

No End in Sight to Political Violence in Burundi
An opposition demonstrator holds a sign in French reading "No to a third term" next to a burning barricade, Bujumbura, Burundi, June 3, 2015 (AP photo by Gildas Ngingo).

On Tuesday, a prominent human rights activist and critic of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza was shot and seriously injured by gunmen on motorbikes in the capital, Bujumbura. The attack comes days after a powerful general and close ally of Nkurunziza was shot and killed Sunday. These are just the latest events in what has been a tense and often violent several months following Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in April. Many in Burundi deemed that move unconstitutional, and breakaway members of the military attempted a failed coup in May.

As many observers predicted, Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term sparked immediate violence in Burundi. In early May, after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term was legal, on the grounds that he was first elected in 2005 by the National Assembly and not by popular vote, Jonathan W. Rosen reported violence already on the rise. “Since April 26, the day following Nkurunziza’s nomination, at least 13 people have died and as many as 600 have been arrested in protests against a possible third term, which continue on a daily basis in Bujumbura,” he wrote.

In July, ahead of the controversial presidential elections, fighting broke out between an unidentified armed group and the army in the north of Burundi, near the Rwandan border. This new militant group has raised many questions, as Nina Wilén wrote last month.

First, who are the rebels, where do they come from and who is supporting them? And second, what are their objectives? One of the Burundian generals who participated in the coup attempt on May 13, Leonard Ngendakumana, has claimed responsibility for the attack, which means it is plausible that the group includes soldiers who deserted from the army after the coup. Yet, there are also persistent rumors of Rwandan involvement in the rebel force, including training and financing of both Burundian and Rwandan soldiers on the Rwandan side of the border.

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