The Burundi Election Commission has announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza has won the presidential election with 69.4 percent of the vote, handing him a first-round victory amid fears that his winning a third term in office will unleash widespread violence.
This landslide victory is hardly surprising given a voting boycott by the opposition and civil society groups, who denounced Nkurunziza’s candidacy as unconstitutional and a violation of the 2006 peace deal that ended a dozen years of civil war and ethnic massacres in 2006.
Nkurunziza’s win has led to fears of a violent backlash, but even the past week’s elections have been marred by violence that has seen at least 100 deaths since Nkurunziza announced his plans to stand again in April. Independent media were also shut down and opponents fled in numbers, joining the exodus of 150 000 Burundians who fear their country could be consumed by violence again.
On 22 July 2015 Al Jazeera reported that about 2 500 Burundians are fleeing the unrest into Tanzania every week, overwhelming aid agencies who say refugee facilities have now reached “breaking point”.
Doctors without Borders (MSF) said the Nyarugusu refugee camp near the Tanzanian town of Kasulu, close to the Burundi border Burundi, was not coping and quickly reaching 250 percent of actual capacity.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, said over 79 000 Burundians had arrived in Tanzania since May -‒ including some 2 015 between 12 and 19 July alone, and an estimated 500 a day.
The unfolding crisis looks ominous for a region already ravaged by the vicious cycles of poverty and war that have consistently inhibited any genuine and sustainable economic and human development recovery. Renewed conflict in the country could reignite ethnic Hutu-Tutsi violence and catalyse a fresh humanitarian disaster that would rapidly spread to neighboring states already strained by internal economic and social backlogs.
Former rebel leader and Burundi’s leading opposition politician, Agathon Rwasa, called on Nkurunziza to hold talks with rivals and form a national unity government, saying it could help avert fresh conflict. He said there was an urgent need to prevent generals behind a failed coup in May from taking up arms as “Some have already been waving the threat of armed struggle.” Adding that his demands included new elections, possibly in a year, he said a government of national unity can be accepted “for the sake of Burundi.”
Presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe told Reuters that Nkurunziza was not opposed to forming a national unity government but he was clear that cutting short any new five-year mandate was “impossible”.
In anticipation of conflict the African Union started deploying military and human rights observers to Burundi on 22 July to “prevent an escalation of violence in Burundi and to facilitate the completion of efforts to resolve the serious crisis”.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said “The international community must not simply stand by and wait for mass atrocities to unfold, thereby risking a major conflict of regional proportions before it finally decides to act”.
The caution is a timely reminder that the last civil war in Burundi left at least 300 000 dead, and the potential outbreak of a new wave of violence and armed struggle should have the region and its stakeholders very worried indeed.
Besides the obviously negative domestic impacts of unrest and civil war, Burundi could face international isolation as the US and UK governments, and the European Union, said the election lacks credibility due to government intimidation. Former colonial ruler and key aid donor, Belgium, said the polls “do not meet the minimal requirements of inclusiveness and transparency”, and repeated warnings it would “review its cooperation” with Bujumbura.
Economic sanctions are something the world’s third poorest nation can ill afford.