OpEd: Africa can’t watch as Burundi bleeds

Protesters throw stones at riot policemen during clashes in Bujumbura, Burundi. [Thomas Mukoya / Reuters]

Protesters throw stones at riot policemen during clashes in Bujumbura, Burundi. [Thomas Mukoya / Reuters]

Under his name are numerous awards and accolades and out of the many, “Model Leader for a New Africa Award,” was an interesting one.

The award was given to him by the Florida-based religious organization, AFREG (African Forum on Religion and Government)

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza is the first ever African president to be awarded with such a distinction in the continent, but then again it draws more questions with the current state of affairs.

The recent anti-government protests on the streets of Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital — which led to the loss of lives and the displacement of 15,000 refugees — gives the award a different definition at least from what has sparked the ongoing demonstration in the country.

The White House condemned Nkurunziza’s forceful bid to run for yet another term (the third term) and warned Burundi could be “losing an historical opportunity to strengthen its democracy.”

Burundi has come from a dark past, one that has seen the country lose over 400,000 innocent lives and caused many more to flee to other countries as refugees; forgetting the Burundi they once called home.

Before joining politics, Nkurunziza was a lecturer at the University of Burundi and later joined, as a soldier, the CNDD-FDD, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy/Forces for the Defense of Democracy, the current ruling party which started as a rebel group during the Burundi Civil War, with a political and military wing. Nkurunziza became the president of Burundi after the 12 year long civil war ended.

Nkurunziza believes his presidency has a divine backing and he’s determined to hold on to the position longer than the constitutional two terms. The opposition is dead set against the move to extend the presidential term, the pro government side argues the president is acting on his constitutional right to run for another term because during the first term Nkurunziza was elected by legislators (and not Burundi’s populace) and therefore does not count.

Many thought the victory of Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria (taking over from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan) meant the start of a new era in Africa’s political class – where the incumbents were guaranteed “victory” by any means with persistent fears of clinging to power.

From the streets of Bujumbura today, it seems the celebration was premature; riots are still raging and so far more than six people have been died.

The world cannot watch and let Burundi go back to an era of lawlessness. The youth have embraced a new Africa of action, albeit on both sides.

Some marched on the streets to condemn CNDD-FDD’S move and clearly want a generational change in Africa, where youths are at the forefront of a revolution of ideas. They says it is high time that incumbents realize that their fight for freedom does not guarantee an eternal position as presidents.

On the other hand, the youth wing of CNDD-FDD Imbonerakure, is religiously supporting the government as it is the militia wing and it is even believed they threaten protesters with death.

At this moment, Africa needs to guide and hold Burundi’s hand, to walk with it through this period

especially given the history of ethnic violence in the country. Africa was with Burundi during the Arusha accord in 2000 that saw the end of violence and resumption of some normalcy.

Africa needs to be with Burundi now; we cannot watch as it bleeds.

Idris Muktar is a student at the United States International University Africa and an intern at eNCA’s Nairobi bureau. Follow him on Twitter @IdrissMuktar.

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