On Friday December 4, CHRGJ, together with the African Students Union at NYU, the Law Students for Human Rights and the Association for African Development, organized a panel discussion on the current events in Burundi.
President Nkirunziza’s plan to hold onto power through a contested third mandate has incited massive societal protests recently. According to Carine Kaneza Nantulya, one of the speakers on the panel, these protesters come from different social, ethnic and economic backgrounds. Despite people from all layers of society protesting and trying to enforce the Arusha Accords, political leaders are presenting these protests as ethnically inspired and are adopting a rhetoric that is dangerously similar to that used in the early 1990s.
Cyrus Samii, assistant professor of politics and a panelist during the event, added that we are witnessing a political conflict strategically being manipulated into an ethnic conflict by people higher up in the establishment. Samii went on to ascribe the choice of Nkurnziza to pursue a third mandate to a fundamental insecurity at the heart of his political movement, which makes tenure of formal positions of power a prerequisite for exercising influence. Samii also pointed out the extent to which some local leaders feel that they were not represented in the Arusha Accords, and saw this as an explanation of why these actors are now unwilling to implement or abide by the Accords. A limited local relevance of the Arusha process thus de facto challenged its long term beneficial effects.
Genocide survivor Jacqueline Murekatete closed the debate by highlighting the political strategies that triggered this escalation of violence and blamed current political leaders for installing a climate of societal fear and societal violence, in order to divert people’s attention from more ‘trivial’ issues such as Nkirunziza running for a third term.
The speakers called for closer and more critical media attention to how the situation develops.