It is exactly one year to the day that Burundi, a small landlocked nation in east Africa made its way into international news headlines. On 26 April last year, large scale demonstrations swept across Burundi as citizens protested en masse against President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third-term election.
The result: a country in crisis. Since April 2015, hundreds of people have been killed and more than a quarter of a million have fled the country. Those that stayed are living in fear, uncertain as to whether the violence will eventually come knocking at their door.
The level of violence is so alarming that the International Criminal Court announced on 25 April the launch of a preliminary probe into the bloody crisis.
For many Burundians, abuse and bloodshed is a common occurrence. Reports by local activists have indicated a growing frequency in cases of murder, arbitrary arrest, torture and forced disappearances. Human rights activists themselves are not exempt to such violations.
The regional implications are another growing cause for concern.
Spillover—the overflow of conflict beyond Burundi’s borders into Rwanda or DR Congo—is increasingly worrisome. Reports of the proliferation of weapons, widespread military recruitment and military buildup along Burundi’s peripheries are increasing as the conflict persists.
Political unrest has been compounded by a collapsing economy and abnormal weather patterns caused by El Niño. These have triggered widespread flooding across the country and increased the vulnerability of the world’s second poorest country.
One year into the crisis, Burundi is at a critical juncture. But it’s never too early to start thinking about peace. Starting to strategise now in preparation for post-conflict Burundi remains essential, despite difficult conditions on the ground. We must support local efforts to stop violence on the ground, and stress the importance of long-term development strategies.
One strand of this should be redoubling support for local peacebuilding organisations. Some would argue that if it wasn’t for Burundi’s deep-rooted civil society, the current situation would be much bleaker than it is today.
It is this strong legacy of local action that has so far prevented the outbreak of mass violence, even as signs of ethnic manipulation are reported. The international community must continue to support and strengthen civil society.
Peace is a process; it’s hard fought and it’s fragile. And sustainable peace demands long-term, unwavering commitment from all parties, local and international.
Today’s one year commemoration of the outbreak of violence reminds us that as the suffering of the Burundian people continues, local organisations on the ground are redoubling their efforts to stop violence, often risking their own safety in the process. We must do everything we can to support them, and begin the journey on a path to peace.