Nkurunziza signals interest to stay “forever”. Burundians wish he could be considerate

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Asked by a presenter on national radio whether he will run for another term in 2020, President Pierre Nkurunziza used the well-worn pretext “it’s up to the people to decide” to signal his interest in staying on.

Germany public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) went out into the streets of the capital Bujumbura, to ask Burundians what they think of the president’s implied plans. Most citizens asked not to be identified, fearing repercussions.

Reactions were mixed reports DW. One man, for instance, said that a new term for Nkurunziza was not necessarily a bad thing: “If the citizens decide that the constitution should be changed, and that this or that person should be allowed to run, then that person is not breaking the law of betraying the people.”

A country ruled by fear

Other Burundians in the capital said  that they felt disappointment on hearing the president’s statements, since they remembered his promise not to run again in 2020. Some, like this waitress in a restaurant, said that the country would take a turn to the worse: “Many people are afraid of his power.” She pointed out that there are many Burundians living as refugees in other countries and added that if Nkurunziza ran again: “… the crisis we are facing now will continue.”

A teacher in Bujumbura said that the situation in the country is deteriorating rapidly. He pointed to increased poverty, the abuse of human rights and killings, like the murder of Burundi’s environment and water minister Emmanuel Niyonkuru on Sunday: “And mainly it is because the president is willing to stay in power forever, while he is not giving the country any hopes that we will overcome the current situation.”

‘The president is a liar’

Burundi has been in political turmoil for the past two years, with deadly violence flaring up sporadically. Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would seek a third term in office triggered massive protests and a failed coup attempt. Ensuing unrest has left more than 500 people dead. More than 300,000 have fled the central African country. The president has worked to shore up control of the country with a crackdown on opponents, the media and civil society. This has upset many Burundians. A pharmacist called the president a liar for reneging on his promise not to run again. The current crisis has had a negative impact on every area, she added: “No production and no freedom of expression. No one can say what he thinks.”

The view is not consensual. Some Burundians told DW that President Nkurunziza is a good leader and that he should remain in power. One of them was this farmer, who said: “We want peace. And if the majority of people vote for Nkurunziza, that means people are happy with his leadership. Our economy would be on a more stable basis and even people of low income could then live a good life. So, if he wins: no problem. We will accept him as out president.”

Constitutional reform in the making

He was seconded by this lady shopkeeper, who also saw no problem in an extension of Nlurunziza’s presidency: “If he is a really good leader then, no problem. A term is not a concern for me. The concern is a good leader.”

During the live radio program, Nkurunziza admitted that he had promised in 2015 not to run again, but that this promise was made in a “different context.” Citizens would change that context through an amendment of the national constitution, he added.

The president is seeking to legitimize his constitutional reform by referring to a report by the National Council for Internal Dialogue (CNDI). The document published by the council claims that a majority of Burundians participating in the institutionalized dialogue – which excludes the opposition at home and abroad – want to change the limit of two terms imposed on the president by the constitution. Following the publication, the government decided to nominate a commission to prepare a constitutional reform.

Source: Deutsche Welle (DW)