As the world’s thoughts continue to be with Paris, violence in Burundi continues to worsen as the Belgian government along with the EU made the decision to eliminate all non-essential personnel from the country as tensions rise. A statement by the Belgian foreign ministry was released, saying:
We advise Belgians who are currently in Burundi and whose presence is not essential to leave the country as soon as normal measures allow.
These tensions, which began in May of this year when President Pierre Nkurunziza chose to violate the constitution and seek a third term, have not abated since he won re-election in July and after surviving a military coup the Nkurunziza government has been increasingly hostile to both journalists and civil protestors.
Thus far, 240 people have been killed during the protests and a letter by a number of non-governmental organizations described Burundi as being “on the verge of a descent into violence that could escalate into atrocity crimes,” describing how “bodies are being dumped on the streets on an almost nightly basis.”
Now, the Nkuruniziza government is being run more or less by an inner circle of 4 or 5 strongmen and all notions of democracy have faded. Ministers for defense, foreign relations, and trade were dismissed for being “too moderate” and have been replaced with Nkuruniziza hardliners. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has been attempting to broker a national reconciliation and the African Union has also expressed great concern, but after the assassination of a top supporter of Nkuruniziza, Adolphe Nshimirimana who was a general in the army and widely regarded as being the country’s security chief both sides are far apart in negotiations.
Memories of Burundi’s civil war
For many in and outside of Burundi, tensions escalating are reminiscent of when the 13 year Burundian civil war claimed 300,000 lives as Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were pitted against one another much as they had been in Rwanda in 1994.
Adama Dieng, of the UN office for the prevention of Genocide has stated that the actions in Burundi are very reminiscent of “language used before and during the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda,” as the leader of the Burundi Senate Reverien Ndikuriyo described how the police were currently shooting in the legs but that when the time came they would not be afraid to “go to work.”
The phrase “go to work” is a chilling reminder of the genocide in Rwanda, as those three words were often used as signals to the Hutu Interahamwe to go out and kill Tutsis. However, despite the similarities there is no sign yet that the violence in Burundi has become ethnic and instead seems to be primarily political in nature.
As the potential for resumption of civil war, the EU has already begun to level sanctions against certain government officials in Burundi, restricting their travel and travel and financial assets over harsh strikes against peaceful protestors.
Certain Belgian development projects have also been canceled due to danger and in an attempt to sanction the Burundi government. While sanctions are one of the EU’s few tools to curb the Nkurunziza government, with Burundi being the second poorest nation in the world there will likely be increased suffering and poverty against an already poor and suffering population. Right now, those in Burundi believe that a peaceful solution can be reached, but they also acknowledge that the window to stop full on civil war is beginning to narrow.