Pre-election Violence in Burundi

Dereje Seyoum* and Yonas Tariku*

The recent announcement of Mr. Nkurunziza to run for the presidency for the third term was not welcomed by his opponents. Protestors clashed with the police and so far six people have died as a result of police fired live ammunition at them. News from the capital city indicates that the worst is yet to come, as the military is deployed on the streets of the capital and barricades are seen across the capital city. Former rebel leader who assumed power after winning the 2005 election which was conducted following the 2003 peace agreement with the transitional government, Mr. Nkurunziza, notoriously warned that anyone who bothers the incumbent party would find himself/herself in trouble. What is witnessed after his statement is a wave of protest across Bujumbura and in Gitega, the second largest city. Burundi’s former president Mr. Buyoya warned that if the situation is not resolved at its early stage the country would slide back to civil war.

The decision to run for  the third term in office by the president is a clear violation of  the country’s constitution as it clearly stipulates in article 96 that ‘’The President of the Republic is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years renewable one time.’’ However, the president’s supporters argue that, his first term in office should not be counted as he was appointed by the parliament. The contention is not whether Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza was elected by the National Assembly. In fact he was elected by the Assembly as a post-transition period president in 2005. Nevertheless, he was not the president of the transitional government that ruled Burundi until 2005. Had that been the case, Article 301 of the Constitution would have precluded him from running for presidency in 2005 as a post-transition period president. That is, Article 301 clearly states that “Any person having exercised the functions of President of the Republic during the period of transition is ineligible in the first presidential elections.”  Therefore, he is the first president of the post-transition period, although he was elected by the National Assembly instead of universal suffrage. And, according to article 302 of the Constitution, this should be construed as an exceptional event. As a matter of fact, article 302 provides that:  “Exceptionally, the first President of the Republic of the post-transition period is elected by the [elected] National Assembly and the elected Senate meeting in Congress, with a majority of two-thirds of the members.”

The decision of the President is also a violation of African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance .The charter which is a binding international legal treaty, was adopted on 30 January 2007 and entered into force in February 2012. The charter particularly deals with how political power is acceded to and exercised. Among the main principles put forward by the Charter, article 5 states that “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure constitutional rule, particularly constitutional transfer of power”. It is important why the Charter attach so much importance and emphasis to this principle of constitutional rule. According to the Charter, unconstitutional transfers of power are “one of the essential causes of insecurity, instability and violent conflict in Africa”. Constitutional rule and, on the other, peace, security and stability in Africa are indispensable. The president’s decision to run for the third term office is a clear violation of this particular Charter’s article 23 which states that ‘’Any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government.’’

Therefore, Mr. Nkurunziza finishes up two terms (i.e. 2005 and 2010) and it’s time to retire. From our perspective, the argument of his allies is based on mere excuses than justifications. And, it reminds us of the argument forwarded by Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal in his last election bid 2012, which he lost deservedly!

The African Union, particularly the Peace and Security Council(PSC), should use all available diplomatic channels and means at its disposal to convince the president to change his plan to run for a third term .Moreover, the PSC should also condemn the president’s decision and consider sanctions against the president which is clearly stipulated on African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. By taking decision on time, the PSC   would prevent further violence which is hovering in the country. The decision and the measures from the PSC also would serve as a lesson to other African states, particularly those which will be holding elections this year. The message should be loud and clear, in a sense that AU does not tolerate pre and post-election violence related with unconstitutional stay in power by the incumbents.

* Dereje Seyoum ( is a Research Officer at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union.

* Yonas Tariku ( is a Lecturer and PhD programme coordinator at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS).

All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact

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