Burundi’s patchwork army faces test to keep the peace

Whatapp News

By Edmund Blair and Patrick Nduwimana

BUJUMBURA  – When protesters in Burundi cheer for soldiers who turn up at demonstrations against the president’s bid for a third term, it is redolent of uprisings further north in Africa where the military was hailed as friend not foe.

But deploying the army on the streets of Burundi may carry higher stakes than when generals intervened in Cairo and Tunis in 2011 and Ougadougou in 2014 to turf out veteran leaders.

Since Burundi’s ethnically fuelled civil war ended in 2005, the army has been a symbol of reconciliation, absorbing rival factions that were part of the bloodletting that killed 300,000 people in a nation of just 10 million.

Drawing the military into a political row about whether President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and now the army’s commander-in-chief, should run for office again risks testing that unity. It could drive troops back to rival camps.

“Everything hinges on the army,” said a senior diplomat who tracks the military. “Does it stay unified or does it split up?”

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The answer may have repercussions well beyond the borders of tiny Burundi. It lies in a region where genocidal forces tore Rwanda apart 20 years ago and where other presidents, such as Joseph Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo, face term limits soon.

For now, protesters who say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term is unconstitutional clap and chant when trucks of soldiers cross battle lines. They jeer police who fire teargas, water cannon and, say demonstrators, even live rounds.

“The police are killing us, but the army is behaving well,” said Egide Nimbona, 27, at a protest in a Bujumbura suburb where barricades of stones and smouldering tyres blocked streets. “They are very disciplined. The army will be our saviour.”

– When protesters in Burundi cheer for soldiers who turn up at demonstrations against the president’s bid for a third term, it is redolent of uprisings further north in Africa where the military was hailed as friend not foe.

But deploying the army on the streets of Burundi may carry higher stakes than when generals intervened in Cairo and Tunis in 2011 and Ougadougou in 2014 to turf out veteran leaders.

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Since Burundi’s ethnically fuelled civil war ended in 2005, the army has been a symbol of reconciliation, absorbing rival factions that were part of the bloodletting that killed 300,000 people in a nation of just 10 million.

Drawing the military into a political row about whether President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and now the army’s commander-in-chief, should run for office again risks testing that unity. It could drive troops back to rival camps.

“Everything hinges on the army,” said a senior diplomat who tracks the military. “Does it stay unified or does it split up?”

The answer may have repercussions well beyond the borders of tiny Burundi. It lies in a region where genocidal forces tore Rwanda apart 20 years ago and where other presidents, such as Joseph Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo, face term limits soon.

For now, protesters who say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term is unconstitutional clap and chant when trucks of soldiers cross battle lines. They jeer police who fire teargas, water cannon and, say demonstrators, even live rounds.

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“The police are killing us, but the army is behaving well,” said Egide Nimbona, 27, at a protest in a Bujumbura suburb where barricades of stones and smouldering tyres blocked streets. “They are very disciplined. The army will be our saviour.”

*(Reuters)*

 

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