Recent events in Burundi are being watched by international experts, who fear that the country may tip into civil war, even genocide.
Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was running for a third term as President, contrary to the constitution of Burundi.
A wave of violence spread through the country, as angry protestors took to the streets. At least 400 people have been killed and many more have fled the country, fearing for their lives.
The government has been accused of committing arbitrary arrests and killings. Opponents of the government have been targeted for speaking out against the leadership, often by the intelligence services.
A court in Burundi will soon hear the fate of the former Defence Minister and 27 others accused of being behind an aborted coup attempt.
Observers fear that the tensions may split down ethnic lines. This has been denounced by the President, who said “Burundi has neither political nor ethnic problems. It has rather insecurity problems”.
The ethnic majority Hutus – who make up 85% of the population – are accused of disproportionately targeting Tutsis in a crackdown. The genocide in Rwanda was split according to a similar ethnic divide.
Media outlets are being watched, with claims that words that incite hatred or violence are on the rise against ethnic groups, although this has been denied by the government.
Civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsi took place in the small, land-locked African country between 1993 and 2006. Some observers believe that measures – such as more equal representation – taken since the war make another conflict divided along ethnic lines unlikely.
The government of Burundi has so far shrugged off offers of outside help. A 5000-strong peace-keeping mission by the African Union was labeled “an invasion” and sanctions have been rejected.
Regional talks in Tanzania involved opposition figures and were rejected by the government. The ongoing conflict in Burundi has forced more than 230,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.
The United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes of Africa, Thomas Perriello, will visit visit Burundi to support new efforts to negotiate in mid-January 2016. “The U.S. Government strongly supports the regionally-mediated Burundian dialogue relaunched on Dec. 28 2015 and is urging all stakeholders to remain committed to the process without preconditions,” a statement said.
Concerns have been raised that the United Nations is ill-prepared for such a conflict. A memo sent by United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said “A truly worst-case scenario will result in a scale of violence beyond the United Nations’ capacity to protect.”
Decisions to close the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) in 2014 have drawn criticism from observers.