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Posted on Friday, 20 November 2015 11:00

Burundi Country Profile 2015: Moving the goalposts

By The Africa Report

altThe debate around President Pierre Nkurunziza's eligibility to run again in the general elections planned for 2015 will not slow him down, and he and the ruling party will maintain a monopoly on Burundi's political sphere.

The opposition, media and civil society complain of intimidation, and many political leaders are set to be excluded from the upcoming vote. In the meantime, the economy is constrained by the lack of electricity and infrastructure.

The opposition claims that Nkurunziza cannot run again in 2015 because he will end his second term in office on 26 August 2015. However, he and the ruling Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces de Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) say the constitution allows for two terms through direct elections and that his first term was the result of indirect election by parliament.

The CNDD-FDD has largely succeeded in dividing, intimidating and co-opting the opposition. Former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa will be ineligible for the polls because he has a criminal trial pending. Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, vice-president of the Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi, is in the same situation. Others, like Alexis Sinduhije of the Mouvement pour la Solidarité et le Développement, are likely to remain in exile.

Tightening the screws

Anger during electoral periods often spills over into violence in Burundi, and all sides are watching each other's youth wings. The authorities arrested human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa in May 2014 for announcing that the ruling party had sent members of its youth wing for paramilitary training in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Interior minister Edouard Nduwimana has been tightening the screws on the opposition and limiting its room for manoeuvre. There will be no opposition representation on the communal and provincial levels in the electoral commission in the upcoming elections.

The EU and other donors have been calling on the Bujumbura government to stop harassing the media and to allow for civil society and political parties to operate freely.

The country's Commission Vérité et Réconciliation is due to continue its work in 2015 after the government pushed through a severely delayed law on its foundation without opposition participation in April 2014.

Oppositionists and activists say the commission will not achieve reconciliation because it is loyal to the ruling party and not charged with bringing human rights violators to justice.

The government has not been quick to address development challenges. The state of the main roads linking the capital and the country's provinces are in a poor state. The RN1, which provides access to Rwanda and Tanzania, was damaged by flooding in February 2014 and is in need of vast repairs.

The awarding of a telecoms licence to Vietnam's Viettel in early 2014, however, and the ongoing work on the country's fibre-optic network will improve telecommunications capacity and lower costs for consumers.

Infrastructure lacking

Nickel is one of the country's important natural resources, but companies cannot exploit it because Burundi does not have the electricity needed or the transportation infrastructure for large-scale exports.

The government is targeting electricity production of 370MW by 2017, and the African Development Bank is providing finance for the construction of the 31.5MW dam at Jiji and the 16.5MW dam at Mulembwe.

Coffee typically accounts for about 70% of exports, but the government's privatisation programme, which was set to come to an end in late 2014, has not yet led to major improvements in production.

The coffee harvest dropped by more than 50% to 13,677tn in the 2013/2014 season. The government blamed ageing trees, the lack of inputs and degraded soils for the reduction. The government expects production to rebound to 21,584tn for 2014/2015, and wants to put a renewed focus on food production in 2015.

Burundi continues to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The country's lack of money is weakening its efforts to be an active member of the East African Community, and it risks being in the second tier of membership with Tanzania, which is dragging its feet on community participation.



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