The recent past
Burundi has experienced on-and-off conflicts since before its independence in 1962. More than half a million people died during the crises of 1965, 1972, 1988, 1991 and 1993. In 2000 the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi was signed. This agreement together with subsequent cease-fire agreements with rebel movements that did not participate in the Arusha peace talks paved the way for the holding of democratic elections in 2005. This marked the beginning of the country's post-conflict reconstruction phase.
This reconstruction phase has brought about positive developments. Burundi's institutions are relatively functional, a fairly peaceful environment has been safe-guarded and the government has sustained a positive developmental agenda. These developments have also been sustained by the African Union, the United Nations and key countries, which committed themselves to further support Burundi in the future.
However processes related to and following from the 2010 presidential elections have hampered further progress. Those elections were boycotted by opposition parties after the May 2010 communal elections, which the opposition claimed were rigged by the ruling party. This raises questions about the legitimacy of the government and made dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party difficult. In 2012 and 2013 the government passed laws, which the opposition and civil society in Burundi viewed as further restricting the space for civic expression. Political mistrust and tension have also flared up over the past four years. Despite having made remarkable progress in its reconstruction efforts since 2005, Burundi therefore remains a fragile post conflict country.
The two main factors that could easily topple the status quo are land and the struggle for political power.
Land concerns remain a fundamental task for the present government to address. Land is central to identity in Burundi from cultural and economic standpoints. With approximately 90% of its 8.5 million inhabitants dependent on agriculture as a source of income, land remains a major trigger of relational disputes in Burundi within an environment of endemic poverty. If not tamed, this emotive issue could threaten inter-community relationships that had been quelled in the 9 years of calm that the country has enjoyed since 2005.
The land issue is one of the major factors that could heighten social tensions, which are already threatened by the political developments in the recent past. Based on these facts the Commission for Land and other Properties (CNTB) was created in 2006 and reinforced in 2010 in an effort to contribute to the constructive resolution of the land disputes. Whilst it has made significant contributions to land governance, CNTB's mandate is shrouded with several challenges. These include heavy criticism towards decisions passed by the institution in the recent past. These decisions are perceived as favouring returnees over occupants regardless of the latter holding documents proving legitimate ownership. See Mediating Land Conflicts in Burundi by ACCORD.
The Arusha peace agreement (Article 8, b and c and Article 9 of the Protocol IV on Reconstruction and Development) had provided a provision stating the right to recover their land or property or fair compensation as well as the creation of a compensation fund for the benefits of those who will unduly lose their rights on land. Unfortunately this fund is not yet created which increases frustration for the land owners losing their property after decision by the CNTB. This has accentuated the already contentious issue of land conflicts in Burundi. The issue is further complicated by the high density of Burundian population, inconsistencies in national legislation, the presence of several government entities mandated to resolving land issues, among other issues.
This has often resulted in confusion over coordination, coherence, and responsibility in resolving disputes. The return of refugees in 2013 from Tanzania and Uganda has further drawn attention to the land crisis as the new arrivals need to be reallocated land or compensated for land lost when they left the country during the previous crisis periods.
On the political front, several developments have heightened tensions between the ruling party and other political formations. The ruling party sought to amend the 2005 constitution and reduce the parliamentary majority to enact laws from the present two-thirds' to a simple majority amongst several other changes. Had this amendment passed, it is speculated that it would have been used to position President Nkurunziza to run for a third term in office in 2015.
This, amongst others, has caused divisions within the ranks of the official opposition party, UPRONA, and amongst members of the coalition of opposition parties such as the ADC-Ikibiri. Those divisions took place both amongst themselves and in their relations with the ruling party. The attempted amendment of the constitution led to several protests and demonstrations by the opposition and heightened tensions. Beyond this, there is also an increasing concern about the emergence and potential use of militant youth groups, which could negatively affect the country's peace and stability.
If the current context remains the upcoming elections planned for 2015 are likely to trigger further instances of political violence as well as additional constraints to civic, media and political spaces. Institutional changes to which the government had committed itself to, for example on transitional justice, are likely to be designed in none-consensual ways. This in turn will fail to bring about the envisaged reconciliation and peace processes. Continued cooperation with international bodies, which have been key in accompanying the Burundi post-conflict recovery process, is also under scrutiny. A more limited cooperation before; during and after elections might also restrain further peace consolidation. This demands additional capacity and confidence building among government, political and civic actors in Burundi and the region. It also requires Burundi to further commit to democracy and good governance as encouraged by its own civil society as well as its external partners and donors.
Developments in Burundi mirror broader social and political developments in the region. Rwanda, DRC and Uganda are all looking ahead to elections in the coming years. Political space is disputed and at times further restrained and national peace frameworks are not equally implemented. And while regional actors such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have political legitimacy and able to bring relevant actors together they are not always adequately resourced. Civil society actors on the other hand often do not have the capacity or information to engage effectively in national or regional peacebuilding processes.
What is the GLP doing?
The Great Lakes Project, in its Burundi activities will strengthen civic players, enhance their engagement with existing national frameworks for peace and reinforce the links between national levels with the only regional intergovernmental organisation focusing on peace and security, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
- Capacity building of local civil society. The first workshop with 25 organisations was held in November 2013 in Bujumbura bring together CSO, government and ICGLR representatives a joint action plan, which will be pursued over the coming years was produced during that workshop.
- Work with lobbying movements, particularly women movements, in the Great Lakes Region to bring leaders from Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda together The first gender roundtable with representatives from Burundi, DRC and Rwanda took place in November 2013 in Bujumbura.
- Support the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) through facilitating regular contacts with local civil society organisations in Burundi and the region. ICGLR representatives were present in all the workshops held in the four focal countries. An initial meeting focusing on identifying strategies to address gender related issues was held in November 2013 with the ICGLR and future engagements and common activities are being planned.