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Burundi Crisis: Between Myth and Reality

Who is to Blame for the Crisis in Burundi and Where Should we Look for Facts about the Reality of the Situation on the Ground?

December 20th, 2015
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In the context of the recent attacks on politicians and public figures, the Burundi Embassy in Germany, represented by his Excellency Mr. Edouard Bizimana (Ambassador of Burudi to Germany), held a press conference on Friday. During the press conference, Mr. Bizimna discussed the crisis his country is going through; the involvement of the international community; the misinformation regarding the situation; the situation on the ground and the role of cultural diplomacy in putting the crisis to an end.

H.E. Mr. Bizimana offered a lengthy and comprehensive presentation about the background of the crisis and he covered the ways the crisis influences all the spheres of life. Mr. Bizimana stressed in a number of times that the crisis Burundi is facing did not came as a surprise for anyone, that there were signs as early as 2014. According to H.E. the crisis was foreseen, impossible to stop and fuelled by external factors.

In 2014 The UN Security Council received information about the government of Burundi distributing arms to criminals with the scope of committing genocide. Mr. Bizimana has made it clear to the audience that thorough investigations were conducted and the accusations were proven false – instead it was proven to be a rumor spread by the opposition.

The elections held in July 2015 seem to be at the middle of the crisis. The protests and riots started around the same time President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his candidacy for the 2015 elections – creating a rift between his supporters and opposition. The announcement stirred controversy as the Burundi Constitution limits someone to two terms in office and Nkurunziza was going for a third.

On 25 July 2015 Pierre Nkurunziza was reelected president of Burundi for the third time, the second time through universal vote, as the elections were not pushed. Ambassador Bizimana mentioned that elections were not rescheduled, despite the advisement of the international community, to avoid violence and a potential coup. The tensions continued to escalate even after the elections and situation became more complicated as perpetrators of violent acts fled Burundi and took shelter in refugee camps in Rwanda.

Ambassador Bizimana went on presenting the current situation on the ground in Burundi. The most important thing His Excellency stressed was the fact that the international community, the international media and the external actors are exaggerating the dimensions of the crisis. The Ambassador admitted to terrorist attacks aimed at public figures from the political class occurring, but also mentioned that the waves of sanctions imposed by the Burundi government and lack of cooperation with local actors in apprehending the perpetrators.

Moving from the international setting to the internal situation, the ambassador mentioned that in the social and economic spheres projects are moving forward with the construction of infrastructure, schools and hospitals, but the high levels of generalized poverty are slowing down the development process.

In the political sphere the situation remains tense, with constant sanctions imposed on the Burundi government, the lack of cooperation with neighboring countries, and the platform the government has opened for dialogue with the “peaceful” members of the opposition is not working.

In the security sphere the situation is still tense, with terrorist attacks still happening in the capital city, Bujumbura. Since hand grenades and small weapons are the most common weapons used by perpetuators, the government has started a special programme for disarming and apprehending the perpetrators. The ambassador has mentioned that the programme is successful so far.

When asked if cultural diplomacy could be a tool of solving the conflict, the ambassador admitted that cultural diplomacy, just like any other type of diplomacy, could help to reach a peaceful agreement and settlement - reaching people that cannot be reached by political tools. Cultural diplomacy could build bridges where hard power fails to do so. Even though Ambassador Bizimana believes cultural diplomacy can be a tool of putting the crisis behind, he also stressed that the crisis in Burundi is a political crisis that is most likely to be solved by political means. The Burundi people have seen the effects of genocide and war and are not willing to take those risks.

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News from Berlin
Sonia Diana Dordea, Berlin Global