As Burundi tightens its hand on all forms of media coverage on the issue of protests against their President Pierre Nkurunziza running for a third term and moved to clamp down on protesters, a rights group has noted with disdain the silent and aloof attitude that has been adopted by the neighbouring countries in East Africa. In a statement released on Wednesday, a representative of Amnesty International has said that the organisation notes the deafening silence that has been maintained by countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
Trouble started when Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate on Saturday during the party congress. The argument advanced by supporters of President Nkurunziza is that he is not technically taking on a third term since the constitution states that the president must be elected through “direct suffrage,” a statement they have taken to mean a popular vote. This, because for his first term, Pierre Nkurunziza was elected by parliament and so he and his supporters feel that he is eligible for another term, which would only be his second term. The CNDD-FDD party said, in a statement that if anyone was against the president taking on a third term, they should use the right channels to oppose it.
Protest action started on Sunday in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital as the residents of that country sought to stop their post civil war president from running for a third term in office, an action they insist is contrary to the Arusha Accord of 2000, which explicitly limits the president to two terms. A number of civil society groups have condemned the move as a “coup” against the constitution. According to media, the government immediately swung into action, banning all forms of protests, whether for or against president Nkurunziza, which meant that they could clamp down on the protests. On Sunday when the protests started, one policeman and a protester were injured in the skirmishes between the two groups. However, as the protests enter their fourth day, there are reports that at least two protesters have been shot dead. In addition, the government has shut down several media houses in the country in addition to cutting access to social media messaging services like Facebook and WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, Burundi’s Senate has asked the country’s constitutional court to take up the issue of whether Nkurunziza is eligible to run for another term, a move which has been welcomed by the chairperson of the African Union, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. In a statement through her spokesman, Jacob Eben, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that she has always maintained that the matter should be handled by the Burundi legal processes, adding that differences in interpretation of the laws should be taken to the constitutional court. “The very strong recommendation for the chairperson is they should approach those institutions,” Eben said. In another statement released on Tuesday by the African Union, the mother body said that it would send a high powered delegation to Bujumbura to try and ease tensions in the East African country. The members of the delegation are, however, yet to be named.
On the other hand, Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director for East Africa at Amnesty International, told VOA she would like to see a stronger regional response. She said that the silence of Burundi’s neighbouring countries had been noted, adding that no statement on the issue was forthcoming from the likes of Kenya and Uganda. She bemoaned the fact that even Rwanda, which had taken in close to 20 000 refugees fleeing the violence in Burundi, was yet to issue a statement condemning the violence. She further observed that the East Africa Community, a regional grouping of which Burundi is a member, was also yet to release a statement. She, however, conceded that the East African Community may be working multilaterally with the AU to come up with a more continent-appropriate solution. She also welcomed the involvement of the AU in the matter, saying, “We know that the African Union has been engaged behind the scenes on the situation in Burundi for some time, and we are pleased to see them take a more public approach to this work.”