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On Burundi: Why I Don’t Support the President or the Protesters…

By Michael Ndaribamare

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this early Monday morning. Since then the vice president of the constitutional court has fled to Rwanda stating he received death threats if he did not change his vote to be for Nkurunziza’s bid. Now the constitutional court has deemed Nkrurunziza’s candidacy legal. If the constitutional court has actually been threatened into voting for Nkurunziza’s running THIS would be the issue to protest against…

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My reason
ing against the president’s decision and the protesting is strictly political. I will briefly share my frustrations and disappointment with both camps.

Nkurunziza screwed his party and legacy.

My disagreement with why he shouldn’t have ran as president might differ from your reasons. My issue is not with the legality of the 3rd mandate (i’ll discuss why in the protest section). I disagree with it because it was a terrible political move. Hate or love the president, one can not deny that in the last 10 years Burundi has reached a level of relative peace it has not seen since independence. People who were kept out of the political system and economy are now assimilating. It isn’t perfect, but it is better. Burundians demanded peace and that is what we got. However, with peace and stability comes more room to dream bigger and demand more. The people are no longer content with politics as they have been practiced with almost all past presidents. We are not content to see public funds find their way into private pockets. The people want a leader who is progressive, not just keeping the status-quo.

H.E. Nkurunziza has kicked out brilliant members of his party that might have been able to offer Burundians the things they desire. Education reform, jobs, equality (gender, sex, religious, ethnic, etc…), economic progress, and other basic needs are what we need now. Nkurunziza has proven in the last 5 years that, outside of peace, he has little left to offer. So why not step down and protect your legacy, because it is the only thing we take with us in death. Money, prestige, and pride all die when the body dies. Leave your legacy in tack as the peace president as Ndadaye is remembered for democracy and Rwagasore for independence.

Just as those against the mandate think it is illegal for him to run a third time, he thinks it is within his legal right. Neither of course can truly be right until the constitutional court decides. That being said, it is within his rights as a citizen of the republic to appeal his case to the courts. The issue is that many members of his party were against this step (and rightly so) due to the growing turmoil against the 3rd mandate. Instead of settling an internal party debate, he opted to throw those who opposed him out. He must not confuse leading a rebel group with leading a political party. In a political party, as in a democracy, everyone has a vote. Votes should be based on what is the best for the whole, not the few. At this rate, the CNDD-FDD may never be able to recover from this erroneous misstep. If he does not step down with all the growing unrest in Bujumbura, the party may never get elected to power again. This is just bad politics.

Lastly, his silence is not seen as a strength, but a weakness. Just as I demand answers from the opposition I demand answers from him. What is your plan for Burundi? Why do you deserve to be our president over others? That is all we need to know from our candidates. However, when he is silent and police have killed protesters (peaceful or not) we demand answers. Did these officers that have murdered follow orders or act on their own accord? Speak. Because if you do not speak, others will speak for you. We, the citizens, will make assumptions and we usually go with the worst scenario. We want to have faith restored in our political institutions. The president seeking another term places oil on the fire of those already without faith in this political system. This reinforces their belief that government is not to be trusted. Stepping down is not just a matter of CNDD-FDD, but that of peace and stability.

Unknown-1Protests or Scheduled Riots?

The civil society leaders and opposition completely jumped the gun on the third mandate issue. They planned a pre-emptive attack against the incumbent president. My issue is that they call Nkurunziza’s 3rd mandate illegal, yet they have no authority (outside of public opinion) to do so. They have polarized the city on an issue that has yet to become an issue. Only the constitutional courts can deem his attempt at candidacy illegal or not. Now, you might be thinking, the courts will rule in favor of the president because they are corrupt. You may very well be right, however we can not agree with laws only if they work in our favor and dismiss those that do not. The whole agenda of these protests are to preserve democracy, yet it is this circumventing of democracy, by placing an ultimatum, that is actually occurring. Our actions speak louder than our words. Our actions are saying, we want our democracy (the protesters) and not that of others (anyone else not protesting). However, in order to preserve democracy and also enact changes we desire, we must vote. If the constitutional court finds Nkurunziza within his legal right, it might just be that those who voted are competent and decided with sound judgement. Just as the protesters think the court’s vote will be comprised, the pro-third mandate might find an unconstitutional vote not the outcome of sound judgement, but the outcome of a constitutional court pressured by the protestors. See how it works both ways.

Now, i’ve had many debates over this on facebook this past week. The same question keeps coming up; If the political system is corrupt and we are out of options, what else can we do but protest? Here is an answer I gave on facebook… “an option would have been to wait to hear what the constitutional court decides and why. and next you will say they are corrupt, and i will say you are probably right. [Therefore] next the opposition makes a strong campaign to convince the people for votes. then you say they [CNDD-FDD] will block the attempts of the opposition to get their message to the people. I will then say, get creative. they were able to get people on the streets, what if they got those same people to be the disciples of their movement. then you would say the elections were a fraud, there is widespread cheating. then i would say take it to the streets.” Simply, the opposition, civil leaders, and media completely reversed the order of attack that any sane politician would have done. I will not put my speculations on here, but I would say that it is this order in which they decided to attack the third mandate which makes their (i am speaking solely of the leaders of the protests) true agenda questionable.

Let’s be honest. Getting rid of Peter is not a solution, but a band-aid. We all want a better Burundi, but the opposition and civil society has convinced them not to demand it. In this election, the protesters only demand is no more Nkurunziza. However, you forget the president is merely a product of our society. He is your son, your teacher, your police officer, your beggar… He is not an alien. Therefore, what we really want at the end of the day is a change in our culture and values. Sadly, these can not change based on the issue of today. To change culture and values we must change ourselves then each other. (Let me put a disclaimer, I will suggest my ageist and sexist assumptions here). In my opinion, Nkurunziza is no different from any other candidate that I have seen so far in this race (as far as the real contenders are concerned). He is a man, in his fifties, who has etched into his brain his idea of what being a president is and what it looks like. This my not be so different from your thoughts as well. After Nkurunziza, the next leader will empty public coffers and enrich himself and his circle. Institutions will continue to barely function or fail. These old politicians will continue to stop traffic everytime they drive-by. They will continue earning more money than God can count, even though on paper they shouldn’t make much. It is their generational view that being a president is to do these things. You think these men (the opposition), who have never proposed things like protecting our most vulnerable citizens and making government spending transparent, are waiting to be elected and surprise you with such progressive ideas? You are mistaken. If you want me in the streets with you, lets be in the streets demanding things we want, not just the man we don’t want. If not, we are just replacing Peter with Peter.

Lastly, these protests have taken a turn for the worst. Some of the protesters in Bujumbura and in the diaspora are endorsing the mentality “by any means necessary”. In Bujumbura these protests are more like scheduled riots. Barricades are placed in the roads and a car was even lit on fire. The city is dead. Businesses and buses are down. Everything is still except and economy that is crashing, tensions that are rising, fears and uncertainties that are surging, and peace that is fleeting. For those in the diaspora (and in Burundi), there are more and more occurrences of the term pre-genocide. Genocide has a specific meaning in the great lakes of Africa. The meaning is Hutu = Genocider and Tutsi = Victim. So no matter how many times you promise you are making the link of genocide to those who are for or against the mandate, the term can not be separated, in the mind or in memory, from ethnicity. Especially with the unfounded/unproven rumors of Intrahamwe operating in Bujumbura. Internationally, the Interahamwe are portrayed as bloodthirsty Hutus, who will not stop killing until the last Tutsi is dead. This is another example of ethnicity creeping into the movement just to get the attention of the international community. This shortcut to achieve a political goal comes at what price? These rumors are making suspicion rise in all ethnic groups about the others intention. The battlecry of their movement is that it is the movement of the people. However, when ethnicity rears its ugly head, it becomes the movement of some people and legitimacy wanes. Scratch the pre-genocide talk. It’s insensitive and just down-right appalling.

UnknownLesson…

It is weak leadership on both sides that we have found ourselves here. It is illegal to make barricades in the roads and create unrest. The leaders of the protest should have carefully planned their attack and should be in the streets to make sure the protesting is conducted in a safe and legal manner. Now, with that being said, the President should be over seeing the police and their reaction to the protesting. It is illegal and disgusting to use live bullets on your citizens when the officers lives were not put in danger. It is the silence of the President that speaks volumes to his poor leadership. We are not only judged by our actions, but also by our reactions and inactions.

What I want future leaders to know is that Burundians, regardless of political affiliation, are awake. They have dreams and aspirations and will no longer have them deferred. Political office, since independence (and even during the ruling of the kings), has been a place to enrich oneself and his circle, while leaving the citizens fending for themselves. No longer will we accept this. We want a change in our political culture and social values. Both camps have polarized the nation on this issue due to weak and poor leadership. Listen, just because we are not in the streets of Bujumbura does not mean we are for the president. On the same token, nor does it mean we are against. We are a diverse nation with differing views. We use democratic principles and processes to settle these diverse and divergent perspectives. We do not riot, we do not spread hate rumors, and we do not choose ourselves over party and nation.

For the current opposition, please take the next few weeks to focus on telling the constituents your five-year plan for progress. For future opposition/incumbent parties, heed the swahili proverb “Chema chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza” (a good thing sells itself, a bad thing must advertise). As in, spend the years leading up to elections showing what you can do by implementing projects and initiatives. Your reputation will be built on your actions not on your words. One does not need to be the president to make a change in the lives of Burundians. If you don’t believe me, ask the founder of Village Health Works in Kigutu or the founder of the Akilah Institute in Bujumbura. Let us see the change instead of the promise.

About the Author:

Michael Ray Ndaribamare, 28, Holds a BA in History and an MBA with concentration in Public Administration.

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