Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza issued a decree on Saturday postponing the elections by a week in the midst of an ongoing crisis in the East African nation. The elections had initially been scheduled for July 15, but are now planned for July 21. Nkurunziza has been attempting to maintain his own power, and destroying the country in the process, which has been sliding into chaos over the last few months.
The trouble began when Nkurunziza chose to ignore the country’s constitution and seek a third term back in April. He attempted to create a loophole by stating that since his first term began as an appointment by the country’s lawmakers and not by a direct vote. His announcement led to widespread protests and condemnation. Nkurunziza responded by by shutting down media outlets, outlawing protests, and just generally trampling people’s rights. Protesters then turned into rebels, and an outright civil war seemed to be on the horizon. The capital city of Bujumbura was completely shut down and refugees fled to neighboring countries such as Rwanda in order to flee the conflict. Over the last three months since the trouble started some 70 people have been killed, and nearly 160,000 have fled the country.
In May the Burundi Constitutional ruled in Nkurunziza’s favor, saying that he would be allowed to seek a third term. However, Sylvere Nimpagaritse, the court’s Vice President, fled the country almost immediately afterward, citing death threats and saying that the court was pressured by the government to rule in the president’s favor. International opinion has been mostly against him as well, with everyone from the African Union to the United States begging him to end his dictatorial ways and let the country move forward.
Burundi has a long history of unrest and conflict, so this is sadly not a new situation for the citizens. In fact, Nkurunziza himself was installed at the end of the most recent civil war in 2005 by the legislature, as he had been the leader of the pro-democracy group prior to the war. His love of democracy has proved to be a fleeting fancy, sadly, as it seems it’s power he wants now. In 2010, he won reelection with 91 percent of the vote. As a rule of thumb, anytime you see a leader elected with numbers that high you can pretty much assume electoral shenanigans. In this case, there was a widespread boycott of Nkurunziza by the opposition party who decried voter fraud. That too ended in riots and violence, as seems to be the Burundi way.
This election, however, seems to have escalated tensions even further, and many both within and outside of the nation fear that a collapse in Burundi could destabilize the entire region. One thing seems almost certain, however: Nkurunziza will almost certainly be the president for another term, and the results will likely be fewer civil and human rights, more violence, and another conflict in Burundi could erupt into a full blown civil war.