Fears are growing of political violence as elections loom in Burundi – a country with a history of ethnic massacres that have left hundreds of thousands dead since Independence.
Like its neighbour, Rwanda, this central African nation has suffered repeatedly from political violence. The worst episode was in 1993, when the assassination of President Ndadaye led to a wave of ethnic violence that killed over 300,000 people and displaced 500,000 from their homes.
This year parliamentary elections are expected in May and a presidential election in June, sparking fears of a long, hot summer of conflict.
Warning signs have been appearing for the past year: imprisonment of opposition activists, violent clashes in the capital, an attack on an army base by militia, and an attempt to change the constitution so that the outgoing president can stand again.
A power-sharing deal between Hutus and Tutsis, which ended the 12-year civil war, is under strain. Crucially, a leaked United Nations cable last year said that weapons were being distributed to youth militias in the bush.
In response to these tensions, Peace Direct has set up an early warning network, called INAMA. It is a collaboration of 23 grassroots peace organisations across the country, aiming to identify and stop election violence. Over 150 members have been recruited and trained in early warning and rapid response. They can identify flashpoints in their communities and text them to INAMA urgently. From there, an action plan can be made by INAMA’s member organisations.
Our local partner, Landry Ninteretse, explains: “This integrated system of early warnings and fast responses to conflict at a local level is the key to success for this project. We can see where problems are coming from – and take action before they escalate into something more serious.”
With elections just months away, the work of our Burundian partners has never been more crucial. Our ability to fund it is vital, and our fundraisers are working hard to make sure that every need is met. Look out for updates on our website and blog as events unfold.