Exchange to Change | September 2015 | Page 17

inexorably to the most feared civil war. I just hope I am wrong! Stef Vandeginste: “The ruling is fundamentally flawed” The Burundian Constitution is somewhat ambiguous, in that article 302 provides an exception for the first President elected after the peace process. This President was elected (in August 2005) by the members of parliament, not directly by Burundian citizens. This raises the question whether this first presidential term falls under the presidential term limit laid down in article 96 of the Constitution. Incumbent President Nkurunziza and his supporters claim that, because of the exception in article 302, he is allowed to run for an additional term (2015-2020). On 4 May 2015, the Constitutional Court was asked for an interpretation of articles 96 and 302 of the Constitution. The Court based its interpretation on the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of August 2000, which contained the blueprint of the current Constitution. And this is where the ruling is fundamentally flawed. The Arusha Agreement unambiguously states that no President can serve more than two terms. Insofar as the Arusha Agreement is a source of constitutional law – which, for the first time ever, the Court confirms it is – it does not leave any room for a third presidential term. The fact that the vice-president of the Court fled the country denouncing the intimidation and pressure exerted on the Court judges adds to the controversy around the ruling. Bert Ingelaere: “Fear is a bad advisor” Most of the demonstrations against President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third presidential mandate took place in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. This is not unexpected since contestation movements usually emerge in or focus their energy on the capital. In Burundi, it is also related to the fact that Nkurunziza has never been popular with most of the capital’s residents. Nkurunziza’s base of power is the countryside. In this context, I would like to highlight some evolutions I observed in the Burundian hills over the last couple of years. These can be useful to understand both the contestation as well as its relative absence in the countryside. These insights might also shed light on what is about to follow or not, with rumors of a new rebellion in the making. Over the years, the ruling party has managed to establish and deepen its presence throughout Burundi’s hills. State and party have almost become synonymous. This is coupled with an almost weekly presence of Nkurunziza somewhere in the hills where he, for example, helps with the coffee harvest. He is a populist and therefore also popular with the largely uneducated peasantry. But his popularity started to decline in recent years. Simply having brought peace after a decade of war and claiming to have overturned historical injustice is not sufficient anymore. People and primarily young people expect more, especially in the economic domain. And many do not benefit from the clientelistic tendencies of some in the omnipresent ruling party. It explains the contestation, also from within his own party, but I doubt whether this is currently a fertile ground on which to mount a large-scale rebellion as some of his adversaries claim they will do. The sense of injustice and frustration does not seem to have reached a boiling point for such a thing to happen. But one does not need to have a massive fighting force to reach havoc. Paralysis can come from terror tactics. What is certain is that, since the start of the crisis, most of the people in Burundi’s hills, across the ethnic divide and the political spectrum, live in deep fear for what is about to follow the next day and the one after that. Fear is a bad advisor and historical awareness of past mass violence should not be underestimated when people contemplate their courses of action. Filip Reyntjens: “Burundi crisis is a failure of democracy” The best way to deal with diversity is to adopt democracy and respect human rights. A system based on citizenship not sectarian affiliations is theoretically the best. That being said, in the real world this is not always easy. In plural societies, democracy often leads to the oppression of minorities. Burundi has adopted a consociational system. This means that the reality of ethnicity is acknowledged. It is institutionalized through practices such a quota,