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What is Nkurunziza playing at?

President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi has plunged his country into more political instability of which the outcome is uncertain.

The East African nation, which according to the World Bank is the second poorest country in the world, went through a civil war that lasted 12 years and cost 300,000 people their lives.  On the back of the Arusha peace and reconciliation agreement for Burundi in 2000, Pierre Nkurunziza came to power.  Unfortunately, Nkurunziza, who has never made any secret of his disdain for the agreement, went the full hog when he attempted to change the constitution that provided him with a two-term limit.

Because he was chosen by lawmakers for his first term, it was perfectly legitimate for him to seek a third term, or according to him, a second mandate–a rhetoric the Burundian opposition and the people said no to.

On May 13, a coup led by Major General Godefroid Niyombare was announced.  At the time, Pierre Nkurunziza was ironically in Tanzania at a conference, which had been convened in order for a resolution to be found to the Burundian crisis.

Street celebrations broke out in the capital of Bujumbura, but the joy didn’t last long.  Twenty four hours later, the coup, which did not have many supporters within the army more loyal to Nkurunziza, failed.  Pierre Nkurunziza entered the capital the following day and the witch-hunt began.

Ministers were dismissed and many opposition leaders fled into exile. Prominent human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was shot at on two occasions.  It was the second shooting which made him leave Burundi.  Last week, his son Welly Nzitonda was killed by police.

The increase of violence in that country of more than 10 million people has sparked reactions from around the world.  A United Nations spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon has called on “the recurring violence and killings to stop.”

Some observers fear a genocide in the face of language reminiscent of the same spouted in the neighbouring country of Rwanda just before the genocide, which killed a million Tutsis and sympathizers. The think tank International Crisis Group warns that “the language is unambiguous to Burundians and chillingly similar to that used in Rwanda in the 1990 before the genocide” in a report.

The chairman of the opposition party UPRONA, Charles Nditije, presented a simple but poignant message.  “We call on the international community to send us troops … Tomorrow may be too late.”

However, some are hoping the crisis will stay political because the root of the tension stems from President Nkurunziza’s changing the constitution and organising presidential elections boycotted by the opposition.

President Kagamé has been unambiguous in his condemnation of Pierre Nkurunziza’s grip on power:

“Leaders are spending time killing people.  Bodies of dead people are scattered everywhere.  Refugees are wandering everywhere.  Women and children – and you want to call this politics?  What kind of politics is this?”

No reaction has yet come out of Bujumbura.  For Pierre Nkurunziza it would seem, as long as he is in that presidential seat, Burundians can die and they can roam as much as they like.

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