By Jan Oberg
The elections taking place in Burundi are no elections. The African Union, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and everybody else must know that by now. They are all turning their heads, pretending they just don’t see. When it comes to Burundi, the much celebrated Western concern about human rights and democracy is conventiently put aside.
However, since April developments in Burundi have taken only one direction: towards dictatorship and civil war and, in the worst of cases, a new genocide. If Burundi avoids that it’ll be by miracle and I shall be happy beyond words to be proven wrong.
Had this country had oil, important minerals or a significant strategic position – or had Burundi been situated in Europe – I am in no doubt that NATO countries would have conducted a “humanitarian” intervention already.
Now when a genuine humanitarian intervention is urgently needed to stop the descent into a hell and save about 10 million people from it, no one is doing anything but issuing hand-wringing, lame and woefully inadequate statements and appeals.
And by staying away from monitoring these “elections” and documenting the fraud they lend de facto support the emerging dictatorship.
Across social media TFF has so far posted 87 Burundi Warnings based on media reports. It has as issued its own warnings (see below) based on an long-term experience with Burundi that few have. Of among 4000 media recipients, two have shown any interest.
TFF has been engaged over 13 years (1999-2012) in that country. It’s work has covered a series of projects with leading civil society organisations, teaching at a university, work with media and consultancy with the Ministries of Higher Education and of Foreign Affairs.
That was when there was hope.
We did it because the rest of the world was interested only in neighbouring Rwanda, gave it all the attention and aid, the important embassies, Hollywood movies and books and because the world commemorated only its genocide, not Burundi’s. The two countries were once one and the problems the same.
And we did it because the peace process in Burundi was promising – at the time much more promising than Rwanda’s.
I met Pierre Nkurunziza shortly after he became President. At the time he gave a very good impression as a man of moral-religious conviction who had a fine long-term vision for the country. Sadly, since then the situation in Burundi leaves ample evidence that there is no hope in his continued leadership. It is still a country with a per capita GDP of less than US$ 400. Still the country in the world where the largest proportion of the population starves. And a country whose tiny elite, through corruption, have ruthlessly exploited society’s resources.
Nkurunziza today heads a regime of terror through state organs and his ruling party and its armed youth branch that, on a daily basis, is “killing its own” and destroying the fibres of society. And he takes advice from no one.
One day the world is likely to say again “Never again!” because we have learned absolutely nothing from earlier cases.
And the Burundian people will, for God knows which time, pay the price.
Why Burundi is also a world issue
The international community’s most powerful countries handle most conflicts in one of two ways:
Either “Do something!” – by first arming what they believe to be the good guys – only to find out later that they were, after all, perhaps not so good – and by weaponising conflicts they become exponentially much more difficult to mitigate and eventually solve.
Or, if they don’t do that, they do what they now do in the case of Burundi: Do nothing! Because it is only 10 million black, poor and starving people who may suffer or die and can hardly make it the long way without shoes and belongings to the shores of Europe.
Until we learn to handle conflicts intelligently – that is, as early and with as little violence as possible – the number of unsolvable conflicts will increase. And so will the number of refugees – and social conflicts, xenophobia and racism in Europe.
The solution of course is to learn conflict and peace on the one hand and, on the other, criminalise arms trade and abolish war as a socially acceptable institution.
It’s a matter of increasing civilisation from its present primitive level.
The alternative to doing so looms at the horizon – that the world as we know it will decay, either with a bang or with a whimper.
That’s why Burundi is much much more important than you may think at first sight.
And why we should never again hear anyone say “Never again!”
Recommended reading on Burundi and today’s “elections”