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“A ferocious dictatorship, one that crushes lives and prospects, is being installed in Burundi”

An Interview with David Gakunzi on the Situation in Burundi

Translated Thursday 21 May 2015, by Joseph Fronczak

David Gakunzi, an essayist originally from Burundi and now president of Paris Global Forum, explains the reasons for the uprising in Burundi against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s candidacy for a third term.

For nearly three weeks, Pierre Nkurunziza has reacted to protests with a bloody repression of the demonstrators who have protested against his candidacy for a third term in the presidential election to be held on June 26. What is the nature of this regime?

David Gakunzi. This is a regime that started in the ballot box, but it is paradoxically characterized by its recourse to violence as its mode of governance: opponents are hunted down and taken out, journalists receive death threats, human rights activists are abused and thrown into solitary confinement. Political life remains profoundly marked by tyranny. The truth is that a ferocious dictatorship, one that crushes lives and prospects, is being installed incrementally in Burundi. This is being done according to the will of one man, one single man, the outgoing president, who imagines himself as an absolute monarch, cancelling the constitution at his convenience. This childish individual, completely cut off in his own mental universe, is famous for having his head in the clouds. Is that where he got the idea that has clouded his judgment and encouraged him to reenlist at any cost for a third term, violating the Arusha Peace Accords and the constitution that limit presidents to two terms? His agenda is far from a mystery. It is rather quite prosaic: to stay in power! To stay in power, whatever the cost! And what does it matter that the land of Burundi loses its verdure and turns blood red?

Some critics accuse the regime of arming militias. Is this the case?

David Gakunzi. Arms have been trafficked into Burundi along illegal avenues for some years. How many stocks of arms, unloaded without being registered as they should by law, have vanished into the air? As for the Imbonerakure [1], they are obviously armed, and some of them don’t even pretend otherwise. This reality is rather unsettling, as it is reminiscent of the Interahamwe militia [2] and its misdeeds in neighboring Rwanda.

The accusations of corruption made against the clan in power have stirred up a lot of discontent. Is it true that the corruption has taken on massive and systematic proportions, as the critics suggest?

David Gakunzi. The Olucome, a group that struggles against corruption, has documented these last few years numerous acts of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. One of the leaders of this organization, Ernest Manirumva, has even been assassinated because of Olucome’s investigations have disturbed some people in high places. This corruption has produced incredible and ostentatious fortunes hand in hand with violent misery. Every day that extravagant buildings pop up from the ground in [the capital city] Bujumbura is another day that most of Burundi’s people can’t get even a second meal.

Is the present crisis such that the fragile peace made by the Arusha Accords could fall apart? [3]

David Gakunzi. President Nkurunziza’s decision to put himself forward for a third term is a flagrant violation of the Arusha Accords. I would even say that this act constitutes an insult to the memory of Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere, two dignitaries deeply respected in Africa and around the world, who were the master craftsmen of these peace agreements. This decision of Nkurunziza’s smashes the foundations of the peace and opens a new period of uncertainty. What remains of a democracy when its founding texts are flouted? What remains of a democracy when it is cheated with its own instruments? What remains of a democracy when it is hijacked, mocked, and treated contemptuously? In truth, very little remains: nothing more than the trappings and the appearance of democracy remains.

Could the flood of refugees from Burundi into Rwanda and South Kivu destabilize the Great Lakes region, a region already torn by violence?

David Gakunzi. Looking at recent history, it could be concluded that Burundi’s insecurity has always had repercussions in Rwanda and Kivu, and vice versa. We are already in a potentially explosive situation that could have unpredictable consequences.

Since the fall of Blaise Compaoré [4], protest movements have risen up across the continent, as soon as heads of state try to stay in power in violation of their countries’ constitutions. Is this a groundswell of democratic aspirations to topple authoritarian regimes?

David Gakunzi. The wind blew from Dakar, starting with the movement Y’en a Marre [5], and it blew then to Burkina Faso, and it won’t stop in Bujumbura. Whether it’s in Dakar or in Ouagadougou yesterday, in Bujumbura today, or somewhere else tomorrow, the people don’t want tyranny. Democracy remains this irresistible universal aspiration. It’s irresistible because it’s become an inextricable part of the popular culture. But we must remain vigilant so that today’s surge for democratic citizenship isn’t broken by violence, perpetrated with total impunity by all those who aspire to unlimited power, all the tyrants of yesterday, who believe they have the authority to do whatever they will: beat up their people, arrest their opponents, suppress journalists, fiddle with the constitutions… They will end up, in all their grand pomp, as relics of history, alongside all the other relics of African political history, all the Bokassas, all the Idi Amins, all the Mobutus, with their delusions of boundless grandeur. The fight of Burundian democrats is the fight of us all today.

[1Translator’s note: the youth wing of Nkurunziza’s party, the governing CNDD-FDD

[2Translator’s note: Hutu paramilitary organization during the genocide in Rwanda

[3Translator’s note: the Arusha Accords are agreements, brokered first by former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere and then by former South African president Nelson Mandela, signed in 2000 establishing a framework to end the civil war in Burundi.

[4Translator’s note: the president of Burkina Faso who attempted to alter the country’s constitution in 2014 to allow him to run for a third term

[5Translator’s note: “Fed Up,” a Senegalese youth movement mobilized in 2011, organized in large part by rappers

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