Thanks to an unexpected scheduling quirk, I was able to pop in for about an hour of the “Shrinking Democratic Space Ahead of the 2015 Elections: Re-engaging the International Community to Stabilize Burundi and the Region” event at SAIS yesterday which featured several former VP’s of Burundi.
I suspect that like most DC Africa watchers, I share an ignorance of Burundian politics, so I will try not to go into too many specifics. The event consisted of 5 members of a Burundi opposition alliance sitting on a panel with one (I have no idea who he was) reading prepared remarks in French. I believe they were translated by Thierry Uwámahóro, who was a super cool intern from Burundi who I interned with at the Wilson Center several years ago (but have not met since).
The speaker gave a fairly routine overview of Burundi and its history of political problems. Several factors that came into play somewhat distracted me from the politician’s didactic remarks. The primary distractions were an attractive SAIS student sitting across from me and a crying baby. Eventually, the baby stopped crying and started playing with the attractive student. A gentleman behind me did not find this as entertaining, as he emitted some very loud snores at one point.
Nonetheless, I did hear the politician make comments about the poor quality of public institutions in Burundi, the high level of corruption, attacks on the press, the absence of a truly independent electoral commission, and the mobilization of a violent militia by the ruling party.
I also learned that Nelson Mandela had mediated Burundi’s own Arusha accords (Rwanda also had Arusha accords that did nothing to prevent the 1994 genocide) that negotiated a tentative peace in 2000.
I left before the end of Q&A. The most interesting query came from the mother of the baby who referred to Burundi’s President (whose first name is Pierre) as Peter. President Peter has given indications that he may run for a third term in 2015, which would violate the constitution. When asked about this, the opposition politicians did not do much more than voice their opposition, noting that if he was re-elected, he would serve longer than any of Burundi’s leaders, including many who had not been democratically elected.