Burundi has been thrown into turmoil following President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term, which some politicians termed as unconstitutional. However, the President and his party strenuously defend the move. At least 250,000 Burundians have fled to DR Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. As the situation deteriorated, the East African Community (EAC) appointed retired President Benjamin Mkapa to co-mediate in the crisis. Elias Msuya caught up with exiled Burundian politician Nzeymana Abdul in Dar es Salaam. He is the Secretary General of the Counsel Nationale Arusha Restoration Etat Droit (CNARED). He fled to Belgium in 2010 after being jailed for six months in Bujumbura. Read on ...
What role have you played in Burundi politics?
I started politics in 2002 when I joined Frodebu which was established by Melchior Ndadaye who rose to become president of Burundi before he was assassinated in 1993. That triggered strife.
In 2002 I became the Frodebu leader in Buyenzi Division up to 2004. In 2005 I was elected deputy leader of Bujumbura City and served for one year.
Then I was employed by the National Security Department and worked for five years. During that time we established a political party called Movement Pour la Solidarity et la Democracy (MSD).
In 2010 some ballot boxes were impounded in Bujumbura during the General Election. I was among those who witnessed the event but I was arrested for the same issue and jailed from May 9 to October 29, 2010.
When I was released I assessed the situation in Burundi and established that it was not safe for me. So, I left to Belgium where I live.
There are a lot of people who have run away from Burundi on similar grounds. Though we are not based in Burundi, we are still continuing with political activism.
Some members of the ruling CNDD-FDD of Nkurunziza live and practice politics from outside the country. There are people like retired presidents Sylvestre Ntibantunganya and Domicien Ndayizeye. There is also Pie Ntavyohanyuma, who was Parliament speaker, deputy president Gervais Rufyabizi and the former spokesman of Nkurunziza, Leonidas Hatungimana.
This apart from a group led by Mr Hussein Rajab who was CNDD-FDD chairman before he was jailed by President Nkurunziza. He escaped from prison. There is also a group of soldiers who are accused of attempting to overthrow Nkurunziza in May last year.
How do you coordinate your activities while living outside Burundi?
We have established CNARED - Giriteka which brings together 25 political parties opposed to President Nkurunziza.
How many political parties are in Burundi?
We have over 40 registered political parties in Burundi. But not all of them are against President Nkurunziza.
President Nkurunziza maintains that the constitution allowed him to run for the third term. What is your position on the issue?
You must first understand that the Burundi Constitution has been drawn basing on the Arusha Accord. The agreement was reached following a civil war in Burundi which started in 1993. One of the agreed issues was how to form the national army where two major tribes -- Hutu and Tutsi -- were given 50 per cent slots each.
In the government we agreed that 60 per cent of positions should be taken by Hutu who were the majority in Parliament and the remaining percentage was reserved for Tutsi. We also agreed that 30 per cent of all Members of Parliament should be women.
The agreement also specifies that a president should rule for only two terms of five years each. We had interim government which involved various armed groups.
Article 98 of the Constitution states that the president will stay in power for two terms but article 302 says after the interim period a President will be elected by MPs and members of Senate who have been elected by the people. Therefore, in 2005, President Nkurunziza was elected by MPs and senate members as stipulated in the constitution.
We started well but President Nkurunziza changed along the way. He started to embrace corruption in the government. For instance, he employed road construction companies which had no capacity to do the work and they failed to deliver.
There were a lot of issues which happened during his first term but he did not welcome criticism. Those who asked were branded tribalists. Yes, we had tribal crisis then but now it is purely political crisis. I am Hutu but I am opposed to President Nkurunziza who is also a Hutu and there are a lot of Tutsi who support us and there are others who support him.
How did Nkurunziza win the third term?
First, in 2014, he sent a motion in Parliament asking MPs to endorse his bid for a third term. After debate votes were cast and his motion was rejected by a single vote. According to our laws, a motion which has not succeeded in Parliament should wait for a whole year before it is re-introduced.
President Nkurunziza knew that he will not have that time so he decided to go to his party, CNDD - FDD, where he garnered support. But there are some party cadres who opposed his proposal.
Currently, retired President Benjamin Mkapa is mediating in the crisis. How do you participate in the talks from where you are now?
Some of our colleagues living in Burundi have been invited to attend the negotiations in Arusha. Recently, Mr Mkapa came to Brussels and we held talks with him after he talked to a group which supports President Nkurunziza.
We held meetings on June 10 and 11 this year. Therefore, though we are living very far from Burundi, we are represented and we participate in the negotiations.
Which, between your groups and those that support President Nkurunziza have more members?
You know when you are in power you are like a person who is holding the knife's handle while your opponents are holding the blade. But we want to tell President Nkurunziza that if he wants to know which group has massive support he should call a free and fair election. We are going to defeat him.
To what extent do you bank your hopes on the ongoing negotiations?
We would like the negotiations to take a short time as much as possible and reach an agreement. We are tired of living outside our country. We want to return home and conduct politics freely.
There are more than 150,000 Burundian refugees here in Tanzania. Some 78,000 are in Rwanda and there are some the DRC.
There are organisations like the human rights defenders called League Iteka and a coalition of civil societies known as Forsc, which have abandoned the country.
Some media organisations like Radio RPA, Bonesha FM and Radio & Television Renaissance have also stopped their operations in Burundi. They have all run away after they were accused of participating in the May 2015 coup attempt.
We would like to see the ongoing negotiations involving as many people as possible. People such as Mr Hussein Rajabu and soldiers who wanted to topple President Nkurunziza should also be engaged in the talks because they have a stake in what is happening to their country.
Source: The Citizen