BURUNDI: No peace without prosperity – analysts

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poverty, selfish political interests and inadequate economic development are the underlying causes of the political crisis gripping Burundi, according to political analysts.

"The whole thing is almost Darwinian: too many people, too little land, an antiquated economy, a runaway demography and no prospects for economic growth," Gerard Prunier, a historian on eastern and central African affairs, told IRIN via e-mail.

Prunier, author of a respected book on Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), also derided the "narrow-mindedness, selfishness and self-centredness of the political class".

"In such a situation, massacres have played a role of economic, if not demographic, regulation. The same is true of Rwanda."

Burundi’s Hutu majority and Tutsi minority spent most of the 1990s on opposite sides of a devastating civil war when large numbers of civilians were massacred.

Although the conflict is now officially over, the process of bringing in Burundi’s last rebel group, Palipehutu-Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) is deadlocked.

A crackdown on the opposition also bodes ill for Burundi’s prospects of imminent political stability.

"The Tutsi-Hutu conundrum is only the surface of the deeper economic limitations," Prunier told IRIN. "The real problem is poverty … The only thing that matters is power … outside of government there is absolutely nothing in Burundi you can make money out of … Out of power, you do not eat."

Frederic Ngoga Gateretse, a regional security analyst and member of the opposition National Union for Progress (UPRONA) party, accused the government of putting all its energy into winning elections due in 2010 “at all costs".

"For the alternative will be disastrous to the current leadership, which has a lot to answer for in terms of corruption, mismanagement of public funds, human rights violations and the scrapping of political freedom," he said, citing the detention of politicians such as Alexis Sinduhije.

"Political opposition is vital for a country that is coming out of a decade-long civil conflict like Burundi," Gateretse said.

All in a name

"It is in the ruling party's interest to reach the elections without the FNL," Gaspard Nduwayo, a political analyst and university lecturer, said. "It [the government] counts on the Hutu electorate and the FNL also knows its strength lies in the name PALIPEHUTU."

It is a name – a contraction of the French for the "party for the liberation of the Hutu people" – that the government insists is prohibited by the constitution because of its ethnic reference and one the FNL refuses to abandon.
Nduwayo said the FNL might deem an association with the mainly Hutu Front for Democracy in Burundi, an opposition party, more advantageous than one with the ruling FDD-CNDD.

For Térence Nahimana, a former member of FNL, the fact that the 2010 elections will essentially be a battle among Hutus, who make up 85 percent of the population, will bode well for Burundi’s fledging democracy.

"Even if the ethnic feeling is still there, people will now ask for more, such as whether or not the candidate has the capacity to pull them out of the misery they are living in," he said.

Sticking points

The FNL has maintained government posts should also be subject to negotiations. After the 6 November meeting with the mediation team, FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana said the government was only offering them "scraps".

The FNL's integration into the security forces is another major issue. The head of the government's delegation in the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, Brig-Gen Lazare Nduwayo, has said the FNL was demanding more than the government could agree to - the FNL wants the security forces and its combatants merged on a 50-50 ratio.

"It should bring its combatants to get integrated in the army as the accords provide for," Nduwayo said. "In proposing the 50-50 ratio and ignoring the ethnic balance in the army, the FNL simply wants to delay the peace process."

Under the peace accords signed in 2003 between Burundi's transition government and the then rebel CNDD-FDD, the army was to be composed of 50 percent Hutu and 50 percent Tutsi. Integrating FNL combatants and the security forces will therefore break this ethnic balance.

Some analysts believe the two parties are not committed to the negotiations. Joseph Mujiji, a member of the executive secretariat of the human rights group Iteka, said if the regional initiative put pressure on the two parties, they would come up with a solution.

"Put them somewhere, tell them to remain there until they reach a consensus - in five days it will be over," he said.

During his last visit to Burundi, South African minister and chief mediator Charles Nqakula said there would be no extension of the 31 December deadline for the peace process.