Burundi: A Country on the Edge

Published: 4 Apr 2016


The International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) today launched a briefing paper entitled, “Burundi: A country on the edge.” Drawing on a mission to the country in February, in-depth interviews with refugees who have fled to Uganda, and IRRI’s previous experience in the country, the briefing offers insights on some crucial aspects of the current crisis.

The paper demonstrates that the government of Burundi is acting in a highly repressive way. There are regular accounts of disappearances, arrests and arbitrary killings and limited freedom of press and association. As a result, the government is shrinking the spaces available for non-violent opposition, spurring some to resort to violence that could tip over into civil conflict. In a context in which there seems to be limited appetite for inclusive dialogue, the formal creation of rebel groups and violent attacks would appear to be a crude attempt to force a seat at the table. At the same time, while the divide remains more political than ethnic, there is a clear ethnic dynamic at play in a context in which most political organising has, historically, taken place along ethnic lines. Both the government and those in opposition are likely to draw upon ethnicity as a tool for mobilisation, and the possibility that ethnicity could be exploited to commit violence cannot be ignored. The current situation, therefore, is extremely tense and is likely to escalate if appropriate action is not taken.

The paper also reflects on the policy context, including the views of those whom we interviewed on the ground in Burundi and fleeing Burundi on the various policy options being discussed at the international level. For the majority of those interviewed, the most critical need was for dialogue. Most saw the inter-Burundian dialogue being conducted at the national level as a façade, and instead saw facilitation of dialogue as the single most important forum for international engagement. At the same time, the mediation team led by President Museveni was not seen as credible. Those interviewed called for alternative mediation and a strong consensus on the substantive scope of negotiations, which needed to be far broader than the issue of the third term. There was also awareness of an imbalance of power between the government and opposition, meaning that serious pressure would be needed to push the government into serious talks.

Finally, the paper discusses the deployment of an international presence, whether in the form of peacekeepers, police or observers. It notes that while there is a strong need for both presence and circulation of credible information about the current situation, there was trepidation about the extent to which international actors could realistically offer protection.

Download the paper here.

Programmes: Causes of Displacement, Resolving Displacement, Justice and Accountability
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Burundi
Type: Library, Paper