‘Majority of Burundians still want Nkurunziza to run for president’

Burundi is on the brink of war and president Nkurunziza stands accused of causing all this friction. Why doesn’t he respect the Burundi constitution and pull out?
The ruling party, CNDD-FDD, had its congress on April 25 and endorsed president Pierre Nkurunziza to be its presidential candidate in the upcoming general elections. An overwhelming majority of the members of the party decided president Nkurunziza should run. Before they decided, they checked and were sure that the law provided for his eligibility as a candidate.

So president Nkurunziza is not in breach of the constitution but if anybody contests this, they can go to the constitutional court and challenge it but not what we are seeing, going to the streets in violent protests. What we are seeing in Burundi are not peaceful protests but violent protests; they [protestors] are even using guns, they have attacked and injured more than 50 policemen and killed three soldiers and these are protesters - armed and violent.

The protestors killing policemen? We thought it was the police unleashing violence on the protestors
The narrative has been wrong, it’s the protestors attacking the police. And you can see, more than 50 policemen injured and less than 10 protestors injured. We regret that we have had three people killed but we have to investigate who killed them. That has to be resolved by an investigation but what we are sure about is that the protestors have been violent.

While the police have been battling the protestors, the army has remained neutral and have in some instances supported them. Isn’t this a dangerous scenario?
This is a wrong narrative of the situation in Burundi. The army and police are united in trying to secure the citizens of Burundi. However, the police being the lead agency in handling the protests have been at the forefront and the army has only come in to advice.
It’s normal for the army to give technical advice, in whatever way they deem the situation. If they say lets negotiate with the protestors, it doesn’t mean that they are against the police. The truth is that the army and the police are working together to secure the citizens from protestors.

If the population is against president Nkurunziza running for a third term, why is he causing all this chaos, why can’t he step down?
Burundi is made up of 129 communes [districts] but the protests are happening in only four out of the 129 communes. This means the majority of the population supports president Nkurunziza to run for president again. So it’s a dilemma for those who are trying to stop him.
But if they want to stop him, they should go and campaign and defeat him. If they think that he has violated the law, we have all the instruments and structures to resolve this, for example they can go to the constitutional court.
By the way, what you have to know, it is not president Nkurunziza violating the law but it’s those protestors and people behind them violating the law. And they should know that it’s not Nkurunziza but the CNDD-FDD party which wants him to run for president again.

You speak for the president, what is his personal opinion and suggested way forward out of this impasse?

Mr Willy Nyamitwe, president Pierre Nkurunziza’s senior press adviser. PHOTO BY ALEX B. ATUHAIRE

President Nkurunziza’s personal opinion amid all that has come up is that he will never violate the constitution; he will always abide by the Burundi constitution. But again, he is not ready to let the population down. If the population wants him to run and the some people say his candidature violates the constitution, then, the constitutional court can decide this.
If the court rules that his candidature would violate the constitution, then he would not run. [Burundi’s constitutional court on Tuesday allowed president Nkurunziza to contest in this year’s presidential elections. However, the vice president of the court, judge Sylvere Nimpagaritse, refused to sign the ruling and fled the country instead, saying the judges had been put under pressure to deliver the ruling].

The international community, especially the US and the UK share the view of protestors and opposition politicians that a third term for Mr Nkurunziza would violate the country’s constitution and the Arusha Accord…
Anyone who is concerned with what is happening in Burundi is welcome. We know that some of them are supporting Burundi and some are on the other side. For example, in the [UN] Security Council last week, America was against Burundi but Russia and China were on our side and this is normal.

Each international power has its own interests. If the Americans and the Europeans say they don’t want Nkurunziza to run again, they have their own vested interests. If China, Russia, South Africa and Uganda support Burundi, they too have their own interest.
But what we are seeing is that the international community is expressing their concern about what is happening in Burundi and they are responding to a request from the president of Burundi. So it’s normal.

What has been the response of the East African region leaders, especially President Museveni who has been a key factor on the Burundi peace process?
For the good of the region and stability, a secure and peaceful Burundi is of paramount concern because it means a peaceful region. President [Jakaya] Kikwete [of Tanzania] was in Burundi as the chair of the East African Community. In his speech, he urged all the Burundians to preserve peace and unity and to respect the law. Everybody has to respect the constitution – we have the constitution, the electoral laws, the Arusha Accord. So what I can say is that leaders in the region are asking all people in Burundi to respect the law and that is it.

But president Nkurunziza is disregarding the constitution and importantly, the Arusha Accord. What is the way forward?
What you have to note is that people are using the Arusha Accord in their narrative, and in respect to calling president Nkurunziza to leave. But what you have to note is that it’s president Nkurunziza who has put this Arusha Accord into practice since 2005. He respects that Arusha accord.
The Arusha Accord which came in 2000 didn’t bring an end to the war but the ceasefire agreement of 2003, when president Nkurunziza who was leading the CNDD signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burundi government.

So, the Arusha Accord and the 2003 ceasefire agreement led us to the 2005 constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. So people should understand that the 2005 constitution is supreme to the Arusha Accord and, indeed, all the other laws and agreements.
The country is led by its constitution and every other country in the world must be led by its constitution. And actually, these people bringing in the Arusha Accord should know that the CNDD-FDD did not sign that accord. Even those who signed did so with reservations, meaning they did not agree 100 per cent. These reservations have never been removed. In any case, it’s a political accord. So a political agreement signed by politicians cannot be binding on the overall population in Burundi and replaces the constitution that has been voted by the whole population.

Like it happens anywhere in the world, there is no contradiction for Burundi to endorse the provisions of her constitution, instead of a political accord. The international community has always urged for the respect to different country’s’ constitution and so it cannot change when it comes to Burundi.
But whoever thinks president Nkurunziza has violated the constitution, can go to court.


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