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His opponents argued that the 2000 Arusha Agreement, which helped to bring Burundi’s civil war (1993-2005) to an end, stipulated a maximum of two presidential terms. Nkurunziza and his supporters claimed that he had only been directly elected by the people for the first time in 2010, so he could stand again.

Mass protests but Nkurunziza stands again for president

When Nkurunziza’s candidacy was confirmed in April 2015, mass protests erupted on the streets of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. These were met by fierce police repression. There was an unsuccessful coup attempt against Nkurunziza in May. In defiance of key regional and international countries, the presidential election took place in July 2015. The political opposition boycotted the poll. Nkurunziza won easily.

Developments since the presidential election

Violence has continued since the presidential election. There have been high-profile assassinations and major refugee flows to neighbouring countries. Western donors have called on the Burundian Government and its political opponents to launch a genuine and inclusive dialogue to end the crisis and, when has not materialised, have imposed sanctions and suspended aid. At one point, the African Union indicated that it might be prepared to send in a peace mission even if the Burundian Government refused permission but subsequently it back-tracked. It is now talking in terms of sending human rights and military monitors. The UN has approved a police mission. Meanwhile, Nkurunziza has accused Rwanda of being behind a plot to destabilise the country. , the International Criminal Court announced a preliminary investigation into alleged serious human rights violations by the Burundian Government since April 2015.

Future prospects

During April 2016 Nkurunziza made concerted efforts to convince the world that Burundi was returning to normal. There are set to be talks between him and his opponents in Arusha, Tanzania, in early May, but what they will achieve remains to be seen.

One observer has said that “power is now in the hands of a small hard core” and that a “system of repression” exists based on loyalist units within the security forces, plus the ruling party’s youth militia – known as the Imbonerakure. This ‘system’ will likely continue to be a source of regular and serious human rights abuses. As for the international community, doubts have been expressed about whether it will be able or willing to exert enough pressure to change the behaviour of the Burundian Government.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s most recent country report on Burundi expects violence to increase during the rest of 2016. However, it anticipates that the ongoing withholding of aid by Burundi’s main donors will force the Burundian Government to engage in some form of political dialogue by the end of this year. But it concludes that the situation in Burundi will remain fragile and unstable for years to come.

Further background

The African Great Lakes region: May 2015 election update (Commons Library blog)

Commons Briefing Paper 06/51, “The African Great Lakes region: an end to conflict?

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