In Burundi, violence has historically peaked around election periods. The most serious example of this was the violence following the assassination of President Ndadaye just months after he became the first democratically elected president in Burundi. This led to a wave of violence in which more than 300,000 were massacred and over 500,000 people were displaced from their homes. With upcoming parliamentary elections in May and the presidential election in June 2015, there is a growing fear of similar outbreaks of widespread violence.
These fears of violence are increased by political and social tensions. Recent political party disputes have ignited concerns among opposition parties that the government is turning authoritarian. Legislation which infringes upon political rights and freedoms has come under particular fire from the opposition. There are also high levels of youth unemployment – and these young unemployed people are vulnerable to political manipulation, intimidation and even physical attacks by other young people affiliated with different political parties. Much of this goes unchecked, without police or government intervention.
In response to these tensions, Peace Direct organised a Burundian Peace Exchange (a conference of Burundian peacebuilding organisations) in 2013 out of which came a national collaboration of 29 peacebuilding organisations across the country. This group, INAMA, created an early warning early response mechanism for identifying and resolving local conflict around the elections.
Together, APD and the other peacebuilding organisations have built a solid platform to monitor and prevent election violence in the five provinces where violence has been most common. Over 100 citizen reporters have been recruited and trained in trauma healing, conflict resolution, electoral observation and reporting. These reporters identify conflicts from within their own communities and report these to INAMA via text messages. From there, an agreed response strategy is decided upon and implemented. The response strategy always involves authorities at a local and national level and includes the community in these decisions and actions.
The INAMA group have also created a database to monitor and analyse the reported conflicts. With Peace Direct’s help, this is uploaded onto an online platform and is available to all members. The platform maps the location, frequency and nature of conflicts and responses. It is this integrated system of early warnings of violence and fast responses to such violence at a local level that has made this first stage of the project so successful.