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Dispatch

AD68: Escalating political crisis belies Burundians’ strong support for democracy

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Key findings
  • Overwhelming majorities of Burundians believe that democracy is preferable to any other form of government (86%) and that leaders should be chosen through regular, open, and honest elections (85%).
  • Burundians strongly reject authoritarian forms of government such as one-man (90%), military (83%), and one-party (82%) rule.
  • Above all other attributes, Burundians define democracy as the protection of civil liberties and personal freedom (70%) and as peace, unity, and power-sharing (47%).
  • A majority of Burundians (62%) favour a two-term limit on presidential mandates, as provided for by the Constitution of Burundi.
  • In 2014, a majority of Burundians viewed the AU and the East African Community (EAC) as “somewhat” or “very” helpful to their country, but respondents were divided as to whether neighbouring countries should get directly involved in their politics to support human rights and democracy.

Burundi is in the midst of a violent political crisis sparked when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek, and then claimed, a controversial third term. Hundreds have been killed and more than 200,000 have fled (Office of the UNHCR, 2015) since Nkurunziza’s decision in April 2015 to ignore term-limit provisions of the Arusha peace agreement and the Burundian Constitution, as well as strong criticism from civil society and the international community.

Public protests and government repression, including the use of torture and lethal force (Amnesty International, 2015), continue to escalate since Nkurunziza was awarded a third term after July 2015 elections that the main opposition parties boycotted, the African Union (AU) refused to endorse through election observers (Daily Maverick, 2015), and United Nations (UN) observers said were neither credible nor free (Guardian, 2015).

The government’s actions stand in sharp contrast to the convictions that Burundi citizens expressed in the most recent Afrobarometer survey, in September-October 2014, including support for democracy, for free and fair elections, and for limiting presidential terms to a maximum of two. In particular, Burundians value democracy as the protection of civil liberties and personal freedom and as peace, unity, and power-sharing – all of which are threatened by the current crisis.

As a confrontation between citizens’ democratic aspirations and the government’s power, the worsening crisis raises serious questions about Burundi’s international commitments under the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, to which it has been a signatory since 2007.

Thomas Bentley

Thomas Bentley is a research assistant for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the<br /> Department of Political Science at Michigan State University.

Abel Oyuke

Abel is the surveys manager for East Africa

Peter Halley Penar

Peter Halley Penar is a research assistant for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University.

Christophe Sebudandi

Christophe Sebudandi est directeur exécutif de GRADIS à Bujumbura.