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Analyst: Burundi Constitutional Changes Increase Risk for War

BURUNDI:Burundian cabinet reportedly adopted a draft constitutional revision that would permit President Pierre Nkurunziza

Jordan Anderson, an analyst with British firm, IHS Markit has warned that the proposed constitutional changes in Burundi are likely to further defections and divisions in the military and thereby increase the risk of civil war.

On October 24, 2017, the Burundian cabinet reportedly adopted a draft constitutional revision that would permit President Pierre Nkurunziza to potentially remain in office until 2034, re-establish the position of prime minister that was abolished in 1998, and allow the legislature to pass laws with a simple rather than a two-thirds majority.

The prime minister, drawn from the majority party, would replace the current two vice presidents, and a new single vice president – required to be of a different party and ethnicity from the president – would be rendered largely powerless.

As well as, the draft allowing Nkurunziza to stand for two new seven-year terms (in 2020 and 2027 respectively), the president could potentially stand again in 2041 after one term out of office.

These constitutional changes would be subject to approval in a national referendum, likely to be held by February 2018.

Changes to end power sharing

Anderson notes that the proposed constitutional changes are a significant departure from the Arusha Agreement (2000) that brought an end to Burundi’s civil war (1993–2005) and the subsequent 2005 constitution.

Both documents called for Burundi to be ruled by a power-sharing government between ethnic groups and multi-party government cabinets.

“The changes would enshrine into law the end of political and ethnic power-sharing in Burundi, which has been the de facto situation since the opposition boycotts of the 2015 elections,” notes Anderson.

Adding that, “Although the changes don’t alter the existing ethnic quotas of the National Assembly (set at 60% Hutu and 40% Tutsi, with the national population roughly 85% Hutu and 14% Tutsi), the adoption of a simple majority as the threshold for passing laws effectively removes the need for Tutsi assent in this process.”

He argues that similarly, the replacement of the two vice presidents (who were required to be of different political parties) with a prime minister drawn from the majority party removes all effective opposition input into the exercise of executive power.

“This would cement the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy–Forces for the Defence of Democracy (Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie: CNDD–FDD) party’s domination of the Burundian state at all levels, and would effectively shut Tutsi and Hutu-dominated opposition parties out of power,” he notes.

Risk of Civil War

Anderson notes that the adoption of the constitutional changes would increase the risk of a new wave of defections from the political opposition and military to the armed opposition, by Tutsi and Hutu politicians and officers that resent the departure from the Arusha Agreement.

“The likely arrest of its two main leaders leaves the FPB in a poor position to integrate and utilise new defectors, and this increases the likelihood that the latter will join other anti-Nkurunziza groups such as Rule of Law – Tabara (Resistance pour l’Etat de droit: RED-Tabara), or will found new organizations,” he notes.

This will probably contribute to increased fracturing and division of the armed opposition, reducing its ability to stage more sophisticated raids into Bujumbura from their bases in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), although attacks into Burundi’s northwest will remain feasible.

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