The people of Burundi will go to the ballot in May 2020 to elect their new leader when the current President Pierre Nkurunzinza’s term officially comes to an end.
That is if the president keeps his word not to vie again in spite of a referendum in 2018 that changed the constitutional limitations of age limits.
Many saw this as part of president Nkurunzinza’s manoeuvres to allow stay in office as he considers himself to still be young, at only 54 years of age.
The impression created by president’s repeated comments that he will not stand in the upcoming elections has led to two strong factions emerging in his ruling party dividing the country right in the middle.
Burundi’s leaders maintain that the country is stable and the streets of the capital, Bujumbura, are bustling with daily life but behind that façade, some residents say that people are living in dread from the ruling party politics.
The decision by the president not to contest in the eyes of the church puts the people of Burundi in the most awkward of the positions. The main contest in the upcoming elections is not between the opposition and those in the ruling party but the factions within the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy.
The young politicians in the ruling party Silas Ntigurigwa and Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, both of them a General in the military are said to have huge sums of money and are going around the country campaigning with no clear signs of who is going to win and how the losers will take it up. These politicians are highly opinionated, cannot be told off and have reinforced hardline positions amongst the electorate.
Political pundits within Burundi, however, say that the ruling party has already started campaigning for Nkurunziza and the divisions portrayed by the young politicians serving under the current regime is designed to create a reason for President Pierre Nkurunzinza to continue in power until 2034.
The main issue that has come up is that the ruling party stands a big chance of extending the current leadership but the sticking issue is how those in power will handle the transition. This was complicated when the vote to decide whether President Pierre could continue in office returned a Yes vote in 2018.
Although Nkurunziza has said he won’t run in next year’s election not many people in Burundi believe him, especially after a national referendum last year that approved changing the constitution to extend presidential term limits.
Critics accused the government of intimidating people into voting “yes” and harassing those returning to the country for allegedly supporting the opposition parties because he has vested interest in the presidency.
The feeling on the ground is that the Government of President Nkurunzinza has not done anything significant to open up the political space and many fear that the 2020 elections will take place in a climate of political intimidation and violence not just between the ruling party and the opposition but within the ruling party along the key political figures.
Across the country, supporters of the ruling party and the opposition parties view each other with hostility. Tensions are running particularly high in the provinces of Ngozi, Muyinga and Kirundo in northern Burundi and Makamba in the south.
The political divide as in many other African countries has unfortunately taken ethnic and tribal fault-lines dividing Burundians amongst the Hutu and Tutsi and Twa ethnicities. The locals say they may be brothers but at the same time, they are rivals. Big rivals indeed when it comes to political power and ethnicities.
The results are that two centres of power cannot be in one house, the same party, leave alone the same nation.
“While you cannot touch my brother when I am here as we will obviously gang up against you the enemy, when it comes to power, position and influence, the rivalry between brothers somehow plays out much strongly here in Burundi than you can imagine,” observes one of the church leaders in Matana.
One of the pastors in the capital Bujumbura is now saving to be able to evacuate his family for a while because of the uncertainties over the upcoming elections.
The church in Burundi has started developing peace champions in the communities to be able to deal with the divisive issues emerging amongst people. It has come up with a peace declaration that all those seeking elective positions have to sign ahead of the elections. Even the members of the community will have to sign the peace declaration which is binding to ensure peace before, during and after elections
While the Minister for foreign affairs Ezechiel Nibigira declared at the UN Assembly on the last day of September that there is an increasingly favourable climate for free, transparent and calm election evidence on the ground is contrary and the world should keep an eye on the current regime to ensure it upholds human rights and conducts a free and fair elections come May 20, 2020.