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The East African : Aug 11th 2014
38 EAC must p≥ovide ‘P≥aeto≥ian Gua≥d’ fo≥ Bu≥undi’s coming election ANALYSIS PETER KAGWANJA AND LAUREEN WESONGA “The EAC has to ensure a peaceful election in Burundi. Fast-tracking of the East African Standby Force is critical.” It also jolted regional leaders to fast-track the development of a peace and security policy and architecture. South Sudan is emboldening T new paradigms of regionalism, which are now highlighting peace and security as the most pressing concerns and drivers of the future direction of regional integration. Although the framers of the Treaty establishing the East African Community recognised peace and security as a prerequisite for social, economic and political development of the region, security co-operation has perhaps been the most neglected aspect of integration. Praetorian Guard But this situation is chang- ing. East Africa is busy forging a “Praetorian Guard” — an elite force — to secure peace in the region. The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. In February last year, the five EAC partner states signed a Peace and Security Protocol outlining co-operation in ensuring peace and security for the region. The protocol envisages the establishment of a Council of the EAC and a director-general in charge of peace and security. Save for Tanzania, all the oth- er EAC member states are part of a process of fast-tracking the establishment of a 5,000-strong East African Standby Force (EASF) consisting of military, police and civilian components. This elite force, comprising troops from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Seychelles and Comoros, is expected to be ready for deployment by December 2014, ahead of elections in Burundi. Burundi seems the most likely debut destination for the elite force. After a decade of ethnic conflict, Burundi, along with he implosion of South Sudan late last year caught its East African neighbours flat-footed. Rwanda, formally joined the five-member EAC on July 1, 2007. The country’s coming election on June 26, 2015 is poised to test to the limit East Africa’s emerging peace and security architecture. Events in this country with its population of 10.3 million are already casting a pall of uncertainty over the fragile peace and the coming election. Some analysts like the Mary Baldwin College professor Cara Jones are even fearing “the return of civil war.” Burundi’s experiment with multiparty democracy is a work in progress. The road to democracy is heavily mined with HutuTutsi ethnic tensions overlaid with grievances relating to scarcity of land, poverty, joblessness and post-colonial tyranny. In March 1992, Tutsi military leader Pierre Buyoya took the first bold step in establishing a multiparty process based on a new constitution. But this was cut short when Tutsi soldiers assassinated Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected (and the first Hutu) head of state in October 1993. Burundi descended into blood- letting, which claimed 300,000 lives and pushed thousands into the neighbouring countries as refugees. Ethnic balance The 2000 Arusha Peace Accord that ended the civil war in 2005 tried to put Burundi’s political system on an even ethnic keel. The prevailing peace is a delicate system of ethnic balancing that allocates 60 per cent of power in the National Assembly to the Hutu majority and 40 per cent to the Tutsi minority. But the centre in this balancing system seems not to be holding, making the future uncertain. Constitutional battleground Burundi’s Constitution is now the source of a fierce political contest. The first question is the eligibility of President Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term in office, which has sparked a legal debate. Although the president has served two terms, his supporters maintain that his first term was not by universal suffrage. As such, he is technically eligible to run for a third term if this constitutional proviso is observed. “The constitution provides for two terms by universal suffrage. The first term was not a direct vote. It’s a matter of interpretation of the constitution,” said Burundi’s Assistant Home Affairs Minister Evariste Sabiyumva. The EastAfrican OUTLOOK AUGUST 9-15,2014 It has not helped matters that late last year, President Nkurunziza’s allies attempted to introduce changes to the constitution, a move that encountered fierce protest from the opposition and civil society, who accused the ruling elite of trying to kill democracy. Former vice-president Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, a member of the Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi (Frodebu) party, argued that the changes would go against the letter and spirit of the Arusha Peace Accord. One of the proposed amend- ments sought to replace the two ethnically balanced and pivotal vice-presidential offices with that of a ceremonial VP and a powerful prime minister. Related to this was an amend- ment requiring that presidential candidates have a university degree. This was perceived as an attempt to lock out Agathon Rwasa, a Hutu militia leader during the Burundi Civil War and leader of the Forces Nationales De Liberation (FNL), who has declared his interest in the presidency. But shutting Rwasa out of the presidential race is widely viewed as a risky gamble owing to his popularity among the Hutu youth. The second set of changes tar- geted for removal the two-thirds parliamentary vote requirement to pass laws to be replaced with a lower threshold of a simple majority. Tutsi MPs, who hold 40 per cent of seats in parlia- ment, accused the government of trying to consolidate Hutu dominance in the House and political decision-making processes. “Parliament [now] requires a two-thirds majority to pass laws, but the proposals are calling for this to be amended to a 50 per cent plus one vote majority. Now Hutus alone can pass a decision,” said François Bizimana, spokesperson of the Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD) party. Pre-election tinkering with the constitution, however well meant, can only fuel inter-ethnic suspicion and animosity. In the run up to the election, the international community has accused the ruling CNDDFDD and President Nkurunziza’s government of increased intolerance. Back to the brink? On July 29, 2014, the London- based Amnesty International released a sensational report, Burundi Locked Down: A Shrinking of Political Space, accusing the government of curtailing the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly and fomenting politicised violence. Amnesty has accused the gov- ernment of intolerance, charging that the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth wing, Imbonerakure, have “strong links to the security services and have orchestrated violent incidents against the opposition with impunity.” “The government’s clamp- down on free expression and peaceful assembly has serious implications for human rights ahead of next year’s elections,” said Tom Gibson, Amnesty’s Burundi researcher. Contraction of political rights Cara Jones has also alleged “serious contraction of political rights and social freedoms.” Despite this, the government seems aware of the delicate peace in the country and the need for national reconciliation, cohesion and integration. On April 17, the country passed a new law setting up the Peace and Reconciliation Commission (PRC) to deal with rising ethnic tensions. But the PRC faces challenges of perception and political inclusivity. Its members are said to have been selected by the president and approved solely by the ruling party. Burundi is also caught up in the unending ideological battle between advocates of forgiveness and reconciliation and their critics calling for retributive justice. Despite this, Burundi’s elec- tion ship has left the dock. Its National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) is trying to play by the rules. On July 19, its president, Pierre Claver Ndayicariye, formally released the roadmap for the elections. According to the guidelines, the registration of voters kicks off on September 22 this year, while the elections for various offices are scheduled between May and August 2015.
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