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Africa

'Robust resistance' likely to Burundi coup attempt, analyst predicts

Burundi army General Godefroid Niyombare has claimed he has ousted President Pierre Nkurunziza who was seeking a third term in office. But it's unclear who holds power, says analyst Yolanda Bouka.

Major-General Godefroid Niyombare, who was fired by President Pierre Nkurunziza as intelligence chief in February, said

he had dismissed Nkurunziza

for seeking an

unconstitutional third term in office

. The coup announcement was made just hours after Nkurunziza departed to Tanzania for a regional summit called to resolve the crisis.

DW: There have been claims of a coup by General Niyombare and counter claims by the Burundian presidency that no such thing has happened. Where does that leave Burundi?

Yolanda Bouka: We still have to confirm the extent to which Niyombare has support among the army. He is somebody who is highly respected in the military establishment, so support is not surprising. Trying to detangle the webs of information and disinformation at this time is quite a challenge.

We spoke to one of our correspondents in Bujumbura and he said the army general made the announcement at a private radio station and not the national state broadcaster. How credible can his claim be?

That's a very good question. I think we often expect such announcements to be made at major radio stations, particularly where there's a government-sponsored radio station. We'd want it to happen there in order to legitimize those claims.

However, the fact that we have multiple reports that the RPA, which is a radio station associated with civil society and the opposition, which has been closed for over a week and a half, has started airing again, [and] the fact that a lot of the prisoners that had been taken by the police under the orders of the CNDD-FDD have been released indicate there's definitely a shift of power.

The extent to which the people who are organizing the coup have been able to completely control the city and the country, however, remains to be seen. The next few hours and days will be very telling.

People celebrate in a street in Bujumbura

People took to the streets and celebrated after General Niyombare announced Nkurunziza's dismissal

Nkurunziza's political supporters are mainly concentrated outside the capital Bujumbura - how do you see them reacting?

I think it's going to be a very tense next few days. We have to see if within the military institutions there are divisions. Is this something that was done with the majority of the military or is there a small group that [is] still tremendously loyal? And to what extent did the coup plotters cover their bases by then trying to neutralize potential opponents within the military?

If potential loyalists to Nkurunziza have been neutralized, I think there's a possibility that some of his supporters may just have to go with the flow. But I doubt that this will go down without a fight. So we can expect in the hours or days to come to possibly see a robust resistance to the coup attempt.

If indeed a coup has taken place, what options does President Nkurunziza have?

He doesn't have many options. If he's able to secure enough support, he can try to come back to the country, but as we speak, this is quite challenging. If we have a feeling that most of the main points of the country are under the control of coup plotters, it may not be safe for him to return to Burundi.

Pierre Nkurunziza

Nkurunziza was in Tanzania at the time, attending a summit with East African leaders

We've seen other presidents being ousted in the last few years. The case of [Burkina Faso's Blaise] Compaore is one of them. He had to seek refuge somewhere else. So if he's not able to secure the support of the people inside the country, I'm afraid this might be a done deal for him.

The president was in Tanzania for a summit that was hoping to resolve the crisis in Burundi. Does this summit now have any relevance?

Well, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya, they will reconvene to address the situation. I don't think the coup - or the coup attempt - changes the fact that there are security concerns related to the situation in Burundi.

You still have tens of thousands of refugees spread across the DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania, and a way has to be found to bring them back. You still have to figure out how you are going to transfer political power to a civilian government and then put together a framework under which elections can take place. So instability and tensions are not quite over. And given the fact that President Nkurunziza still has supporters in Burundi, there is still a need for the East African Community to stay apprised and involved in the process in order for the region to be stabilized.

Yolanda Bouka is an analyst on Burundi at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi.

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu

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