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Africa

Protest level 'increasing again' in Burundi

After a failed coup in Burundi, street protests are reported to be growing again. Police fired teargas and beat demonstrators opposed to President Nkurunziza's bid for a third term.

Protesters opposed to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza have defied warnings to end weeks of demonstrations. However, they admitted their numbers were dwindling after a failed coup. President Nkurunziza has been accused by rights groups of launching a campaign of repression against opponents and trying to silence independent media as he goes ahead with his controversial third term bid. DW spoke to Yolanda Bouka, political and security analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi.

DW: It seems like the anti-Nkurunziza protests are slowly fading. Who does the president have to thank for that?

Yolanda Bouka: There are two important factors that slowed the protests. First is the attempted coup that failed which resulted first in euphoria and then a serious crackdown by loyalists in order to regain control of the situation. During the crackdown, which lasted about 48 hours and involved fighting between the two sides in the conflict, people remained indoors. People involved in the process hoped that the coup would stick, but unfortunately for them it didn't. So it took a little bit of time to remobilize people and people were actually quite scared. Secondly, there is the speech by the president which linked the coup organizers and the protesters and a group of people who engaged in an incursion in Burundi late last year as one single movement. There was a tremendous level of concern and fear that returning to the protests would be dangerous. However, from what we hear now, the size of the protests has increased again.

But there are reports that the Burundian soldiers who had largely stayed out of the protests are now siding with the government. What effect could that have on the crisis?

I think what is going on with the army is a matter of some concern because the government decided to withdraw the police forces and put in place military officers for the protests. Given that the loyalists fought for President Nkurunziza to remain in power, some would have thought there might be increased unity among those who remain loyal to Nkurunziza. However, what we see on the ground is increasing conflict within the armed forces about the terms of engagement they have to abide by to deal with the protesters. So I think we are not quite out of the situation where the army is divided. Some are still loyal to Nkurunziza and others, while against a third bid [for the presidency], are still loyal to the military institution but don't necessarily approve of the president's decision.

Does that mean the president is still not secure in his position as leader of Burundi?

If we look at the recent development where he sacked a few ministers within 24 hours, I think the president is trying to ascertain who is loyal to him and who is not. The minister of defense was replaced and this indicated there are still concerns about loyalty within the government and within the military.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called on Nkurunziza to postpone next month's election. Is his plea likely to make a difference?

Let's remember that the elections are actually supposed to start this month. The legislative elections are scheduled to start on 26 May, which gives us a little over a week. Given the current situation, the elections could not be ready in such a short time. That being said, we want to be cautious about postponing the elections so that they are not postponed indefinitely. That would extend Nkurunzia's current mandate and increase the frustration and attention of the population. But at this point, I do not think that there is another option but to postpone the elections.

What about the opposition in Burundi? Is it now stronger or weaker after the failed coup?

I think to a certain extent it was weakened, given the fact that the president (as I said earlier) is linking the coup organisers with the opposition. 'Weakened' in the sense that, in order to get more traction on the movement, you need more support from people on the streets. I think a number of them are concerned at the moment that there could be a serious crackdown on the part of the government. That being said, I think the resolve of the opposition is still very strong, and in the days to come we may see an increase in popular protests throughout the capital Bujumbura. One thing is certain, however, and that is that this situation is unlikely to resolve itself in the next few days.

How do you see it playing out? How do you see this political crisis being resolved?

I think to a certain extent this will depend on the level of engagement of regional actors, such as the African Union and the East African Community. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Great Lakes security apparatus, is meeting in Angola to discuss, among other things, the situation in Burundi. I think depending on the level of consensus that can be reached at that meeting, they may put a little bit more pressure on President Nkurunziza. What I hear is that the East African Community commissioned legal scholars to review the constitutonal court ruling in Burundi. Apparently the analysis questioned the legitimacy and legality of the court ruling. So there is a possibility that if a consensus can be reached they may exert much more pressure to push Nkurunziza to abandon his third bid.

But wouldn't that be seen by the people in Burundi as meddling in their internal affairs?

Absolutely. You have to understand that it's a regional organization that should respect each country's sovereignty. That being said, the crisis is now having regional implications. When you have tens of thousands of refugees in Rwanda, in Tanzania, and another large number in DR Congo, this is no longer solely a domestic issue but an issue that has security implications for regional actors. Therefore, pressure may need to be exerted a little bit more forcefully without necessarily wanting to force Nkurunziza to step down.

Yolanda Bouka is a political and security analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu

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