Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza may find an election victory he is assured of this month swiftly overshadowed by the emergence of an armed insurgency in a nation at the heart of one of Africa’s most combustible regions. After weeks of protests against the president’s bid for a third term, a general involved in a failed coup says he is mobilizing troops, grenade attacks echo round the capital and armed clashes have erupted in the north of a nation still scarred by civil war. “We are heading for trouble,” said one senior Western diplomat, warning of a “slide back into a low-level conflict” after ethnically charged fighting ended just a decade ago. Opponents say another five-year term is unconstitutional and are boycotting the July 21 vote, thereby assuring Nkurunziza of victory. Western donors and African neighbors have urged him to step aside. Yet the rebel-turned-president has shrugged off the pressure, citing a court ruling saying he can run again.
“Political intervention to influence Nkurunziza to end his campaign for a third term failed,” General Leonard Ngendakumana, a leader in the abortive May 13 putsch, told Reuters. “The only way to reach this objective is to use force.” In response, presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said any threat “will meet the full force our defense and security forces.”
A flare-up in Burundi risks repercussions well beyond the borders of this tiny nation of 10 million people and will create fresh instability in a region with a history of ethnic conflict.
More than 145,000 Burundians – almost 1.5 percent of the population – have already fled across borders. The crisis could drag in regional players, like Rwanda, a victim of a 1994 genocide that has vowed not to let it happen again in the area.