Opinion: Time to intervene in Burundi | Africa | DW | 08.07.2015
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Opinion: Time to intervene in Burundi

The ruling party has been declared the winner of the parliamentary elections in Burundi. The polls were a farce which has heightened the risk of civil war ahead of the presidential poll, writes Andrea Schmidt.

The results of the parliamentary elections in Burundi will have surprised no one. The poll was neither free nor fair; there was neither an independent electoral commission, nor were there any independent election monitors. Politicians critical of the government left the country over the last few weeks - along with members of the electoral commission, judges from the constitutional court and journalists. Independent media were muzzled, their offices and equipment wrecked. Burundians only had access to state media.

The small East African country has been plunged into unrest and its citizens exposed to intimidation since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April that he would run for a third term. With the parliamentary elections now over, Nkurunziza has achieved his objective. He can now push through sweeping amendments to the constitution.

A summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, of East African Community (EAC) nations - to which Burundi belongs - achieved nothing. Nkurunziza stayed at home in Bujumbura with official sources claiming he preferred to concentrate on campaigning. A more likely explanation is that he was worried that there might be another coup attempt in his absence. There was an unsuccessful bid to oust him while he was attending an earlier EAC summit in May.

Choice of Museveni ill-advised

Nkurunziza wasn't the only head of state who failed to put in an appearance. The presidents of Rwanda and Kenya were represented by their foreign ministers, which shows their lack of interest in a peaceful solution to the Burundian conflict. This would have been a timely opportunity for them to reaffirm their commitment to the spread of democracy in East Africa. Instead the summit appointed none other than Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as mediator in Burundi. There is hardly anyone less suited to the task. Museveni arranged for the Ugandan constitution to be amended, lifting restrictions on the number of terms a sitting president can serve. He evidently intends to remain Ugandan president for the rest of his life.

Andrea Schmidt

Andrea Schmidt is the head of DW's Kiswahili service

But Nkurunziza is impervious to criticism. He intends to cling to power even at the risk of pitching the country into civil war. As well as generating great misery at home, this could also cause destabilization in neighboring countries, in Rwanda in particular. The last civil war in Burundi lasted 13 years. More than 300,000 people were killed.

Time for action

No government anywhere in the world should recognize the results of these elections in Burundi. A clear political signal needs to be sent to Bujumbura. The government must put a stop to the widespread human rights abuses and intimidation of the population immediately. It should no longer ignore calls within the country for more democracy. Any further escalation of the violence must be prevented.

More than 140,000 people have fled Burundi for neighboring countries. In Burundi itself, more than 1,000 people have been detained, some 500 have been injured and more than 70 killed in the recent unrest.

The plotters of the abortive May coup are threatening to oust Nkurunziza by force. He alleges that political opponents who fled to Rwanda are planning an armed uprising.

Unfortunately, calls for the polls to be delayed from the African Union and the European Union and a rare unanimous appeal from the United Nations were to no avail. The demand from the EAC summit for a postponement to the July 15 presidential election will be equally devoid of any impact. Besides, what purpose would it serve? President Nkurunziza's bid for a third term is both immoral and unconstitutional.

The international community cannot afford to stand idly by. In 2005 the United Nations adopted the concept of the "responsibility to protect" as a response to the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide. It obliges states to protect their citizens from severe rights abuses, genocide and ethnic cleansing. If a state does not meet this responsibility, then the international community can assume it in its place and intervene militarily. This should happen in Burundi before a catastrophic civil war is unleashed.

Andrea Schmidt heads DW's Kiswahili service

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