Just days before parliamentary elections, Burundi’s Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri fled for his life to Belgium. In a DW interview, he calls on President Pierre Nkurunziza to drop his third term bid.
DW: Why did it take you so long to denounce President Nkurunziza's renewed candidacy?
Gervais Rufyikiri: I don't know if I've waited too long. One has to wait for the right time to act. In Burundi I was intimidated and I couldn't voice my opinion freely. My colleagues and I in the advisory council have clearly expressed our opinion on how we view the third mandate of the President. But we have since been excluded from deliberations. We have also received some threats. I don't want to mention any names, but I have enough information to confirm that I was no longer safe there.
Although many members of the ruling party CNDD-FDD and many personalities around President Nkurunziza are no longer supporting him, it looks as if the regime can still hold on to power. Where does this strength come from?
It takes a long time to change people's opinions and attitudes, especially if those in power use propaganda and repressive methods. We have witnessed violence during the demonstrations. The police brutality has led to the deaths of many protesters. The repression has caused people not to express their opinions freely. Many Burundians would want to adhere to the Arusha Agreement and the constitution, but are afraid to speak up openly about it.
General Godefroid Niyombare has tried to overthrow the president. You were then in Burundi. Why do you think that the coup failed? Does it mean that the army is split?
I do not know the reasons for the failure of the coup on May 13. There are signs that the army does not hold together. I would rather attribute the failure to their weak organizational structure.
Do you think that the deposed generals could get together and plan a return to Burundi, as President Nkurunziza once did in 2003?
I don't know the whereabouts or the plans of the deposed generals or people who have left the country. The crisis which first had to do with politicians has in the meantime tightened up and is accompanied by demonstrations and violence. There are now reports of grenades attacks and the situation could escalate into a real civil war.
The Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party is accused of being the armed wing of the party. Can you confirm that?
The facts showed that during the demonstrations, these youth appeared armed alongside the police. There are also information that the group has been trained. I think it was a big mistake to arm these militias, because Burundi has a police which is loyal to the institutions. I don't see any reason why young civilians should be armed in a country where the army and the police have remained loyal to the government.
Despite demonstrations, protests and appeals, President Nkurunziza is not thinking of relinquishing power. Will parliamentary elections, due on June 29, really take place?
The elections will take place and will be recognized - regardless of how many people will participate. For the elections to be declared democratic however, security, freedom and transparency have to prevail. We can only speak of democratic elections if certain conditions have been met. That includes bringing peace and security to the country, the possibility of politicians to have a fair election campaign, disarmament of militias, and opposition leaders are given the opportunity to reestablish their parties. Only then can we speak of a free election.
How much time do you still give the regime of Nkurunziza?
I believe that the regime is weakening. The number of refugees fleeing the country and the protests in the country are a sign. Contrary to what is being reported, the demonstrations are taking place throughout Bujumbura and also in municipalities in the interior of the country. It's not only in some suburbs in Bujumbura. A lot of people are taking party in the protests. But because of the police brutality many people do not dare to take to the streets.
What has to happen so that the situation does not escalate?
To ease the situation, President Nkurunziza must withdraw his candidacy for a third mandate. He should be ready to implement the decisions of the African Union. This step is very crucial, because the conflict which is happening in Burundi could also spill over to neighboring countries, as it happened in the past. First signs are there to be seen since many Burundians fled to neighboring countries.
Do you think that your demand for the resignation of President Nkurunziza will be heard?
This demand comes not only from me but also from the members of the advisory council, from the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Muslim community, the leaders of opposition parties and civil society. There was also an appeal from current and former UN Secretary-General and from South African politicians. The requests are not only coming from inside the country but also abroad and that can not be ignored.
Do you think that Burundi is sinking into a civil war, if Nkurunziza insists on staying in office?
That's a real threat, because there are signals that the current crisis could turn into a civil war, if nothing is done. The only way out is Nkurunziza to withdraw his third term candidacy.
Since 2010 Gervais Rufyikiri has been the 2nd vice president of Burundi and a member of the ruling party CNDD-FDD.
Interview: Eric Topona