There will be bigger crisis in Burundi if Nkurunziza has his way, says ex-president

Former Burundi President Domitien Ndayizeye during an Interview with The Standard at his home in Runda Estate, Nairobi. [PHOTO: ELVIS OGINA/STANDARD]

Q: What is happening in your country?

A: We are in a crisis but we hope to come out of it. There is an institutional, political, security and humanitarian crisis. How we will come out of it we still don’t know.

Q: How did the country get here?

A: This was as a result of the interpretation of the Arusha agreement by President (Pierre) Nkurunziza that ended a 13-year civil war between the Tutsis and Hutus in 2006. It is also about the constitution, which limits a president to two terms in office. A big part of the population does not agree with his interpretation that he feels makes him eligible to vie for the presidency. The civil society and the international community do not agree with his interpretation. Those of us who were also involved in the negotiation do not agree with his interpretation. As long as he continues to interpret it in such a manner, the crisis will remain.

Q: But the constitutional court ruled in his favour, allowing him to run for a third-term?

A: Yes it did, but it must have been manipulated. I negotiated the Arusha Accord and so did many other people who have maintained that it says no president can lead a country for more than two mandates. The claim that the first mandate does not count is baseless because President Nkurunziza was elected into office by MPs and senators who are direct representatives of the people. The biggest problem is not even about him contesting for the presidency but that he has plans to change provisions in the constitution so that he can remain in power forever. The government started violating the constitution as from October 2005 just a few months after I signed it into law on March 18, 2005. He tried unsuccessfully, last year, to remove reference from the Arusha agreement from the constitution and many articles.

Q: How would you describe the security situation now?

A: It’s very bad. Over 25 people have so far been killed during the demonstrations. We also have a local militia known as the Imbonerakure (the Kirundi word for “those who see far”). The group is involved in hunting down anti-government leaders and protestors. They have killed many members of the opposition The Front for Democracy in Burundi. Many others have been imprisoned on flimsy grounds. I was jailed in 2006 for allegedly organising a coup. How can I organise a coup without having the backing of even a single soldier? We are appealing to the African Union and the United Nations to quickly come and help. If they do not respond in good time, Burundi might fall into a bigger crisis that might result in the country going back to civil war. We are also asking the East African Community leaders to convince President Nkurunziza to respect the constitution and Arusha Accord.

Q: What is the other former presidents’ stand?

A: We have met and agreed to meet Nkurunziza. We tried to meet him as individuals and he refused to meet us. He has also not honoured our requests as a group.

He has not consulted us or sought our opinion on how to come out of the current crisis. You see, we all remain influential in the country because we are senators and have certain constitutional advantages as former presidents.

Q: Did the coup attempt help or worsen the situation?

A: Who says it was a coup? First, the general who allegedly organised it had no control over radio stations, the national bank and no residence in the country. It was more of someone who goes to his residence and calls journalists to announce himself as president. It didn’t look like a coup. I think the objective of what happened was to stop the demonstrations of the population and close private radio stations since the government is afraid they communicate to the rest of the people in the country on the ongoing wrongs in Bujumbura.