Street protests in Burundi's capital Bujumbura in 2015. Photo: Johan Persson

No end to political violence in Burundi

Is there any hope in Burundi? Since 2015 the small Central-African republic is in a state of deep crisis.

The UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) reported in September last year about “abundant evidence of gross human rights violations,” possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. The investigators had verified 564 executions since April 2015 when the country’s president Pierre Nkurunziza prompted widespread popular protests after announcing he would seek a third term in office.

“Unfortunately the political violence in the country continues, says NAI researcher Jesper Bjarnesen.

Together with journalists Anna Roxvall and Johan Persson he takes part in a seminar on Burundi’s crisis at ABF in Stockholm on Thursday. Roxvall and Persson have just released the book Burundi inifrån “När folk väl har…”, Inside Burundi “Once people have…”, on their own publishing company Myteri förlag.

“We wanted to write a consistent and close story. This book is an attempt to depict what happens when a society breaks down. It is about a country that went from peaceful rolemodel to blood-bath in less than a year, and about all those people who were pulled into the abyss”, says Anna Roxvall.

The large majority of victims are people opposed to or perceived to be opposed to the third mandate of Nkurunziza. The patterns of violence clearly suggest that they are deliberate and the result of conscious decisions, and it is in the government’s power to stop them, the investigators say.

Senior researcher Jesper Bjarnesen has studied electoral violence in Burundi as part of a research project conducted by the Nordic Africa Institute.

“The Burundi regime has created a national state of fear, where systematic human rights abuses are a way of governance”, he says.  

The narrative of Burundi is full of misery, but Anna Roxvall also sees glimpses of light.

“What is positive in Burundi, and many other parts of the continent, is that people are starting to protest. The men in power can no longer break laws and regulations without meeting opposition. Dictators might win the fight for now, but it comes at a higher cost. The new generation does not settle for “no colonialism”, they also demand democracy and respect.

FACTS/Together with what is today Rwanda, Burundi formed the colony Ruanda-Urundi under first German and later Belgian dominion. Colonial rule exacerbated social differences between Tutsi and Hutu populations. Burundi gained independence in 1962. Two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and again in the 1990s left the country poor and underdeveloped. From the late 1990s Burundi enjoyed its longest period of peace since independence, until violence erupted in 2015.   

 

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