It might seem a sad coincidence. A few months after the publication of the historical novel “Descent to hell” by the Burundian writer Aloys Misago, a press communiqué issued by the chief of staff of the former Hutu rebel Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL) – who had laid their weapons down in 2009 – announced the resumption of war. The release came the day after a rocket attack against an army position close to Bujumbura international airport.
The statement did not really surprise Burundians. The security situation is indeed deteriorating since the June 2010 local elections, which were marred with rigging, according to the political opposition, including the FNL’s leader Agathon Rwasa, who left the country just after the election. The communiqué justifies the resumption of the struggle, by the need to put an end to the Burundian army’s “extermination policy targeting FNL members”. Several hundred former guerrillas have been killed by security forces since 2010. The UN Security Council itself says that some members of the Burundian police, secret services and military are involved, alongside with the Youth League of President Nkurunziza’s party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD), which is also a former Hutu guerrilla movement. Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the chairman of the Association for the Protection of Detained Persons and Human Rights (Aprodeh), describes appalling scenes: victims are thrown into police dungeons and taken to forests where they are tortured. Corpses are chopped and thrown into rivers.
The statement is not signed by Agathon Rwasa himself but by Gen. Aloys Nzabampena, a former commander on the Western front of the FNL. The general calls Burundians to resist the oppression and urges the international community not to remain silent when FNL militants are being killed like “wild animals”. He also blamed the government for harassing the opposition and jailing journalists and critics from the civil society. Eventually, the general also condemned the corruption and the embezzlements committed by President Nkurunziza’s “clique” and the 2010electoral fraud.
Most of these critics coincide with those of the nine opposition parties which – with the FNL – formed the Democratic Alliance for Change (ADC-Ikibiri). However, FNL spokesman, Aimé Magera, questioned the authenticity of the general’s claim and said it was a “manipulation” by the Burundian authorities, which in the past already provoked a split within the FNL. But observers doubt that the general is being manipulated by the authorities because they are denying the political nature of the insecurity, caused by “armed bandits” and rather playing it down in order not to scare donors and NGOs. In their opinion, Magera’s reaction reflects the divisions within the FNL.
Several ADC Ikibiri leaders also condemned the general’s statement. These reactions are quite understandable and reflect a feeling of fear. They want to prevent authorities from using the slightest pretext to clamp down on the opposition. Indeed, according to Aprodeh, Burundi already has 400 political prisoners, including lots of FNL militants.
The search for peace will not be an easy task. Mediators will have to pick up the pieces of the FNL. The group which was founded as the armed wing of the Party for the liberation of the Hutu People (Palipehutu) founded by Rémi Gahutu in the Tanzanian refugee camps in the 1980s, has split. FNL can count on 1,000 fighters spread in the forest of Kibira, near the Congolese border, and in the South Kivu province of Congo, where some of them are busy in illegal gold mining. At any rate, there is no doubt that Burundi is going back to civil war. The Belgian and French embassies recommend avoiding public areas such as bus stations, markets and pubs, which have already been the target of grenade attacks. At night, roads outside of the capital are no longer controlled by the security forces and incidents of banditry are reported in all provinces. UN agencies don’t move without escorts outside Bujumbura. And there are scores of incidents even if the state media don’t report them.
All these tensions occur within the context of President Nkurunziza’s attempts to remain in office as long as possible. In August, he announced plans to amend Article 96 of the Constitution, which rules out more than two presidential mandates, to be able to run in 2015. A defector of the ruling CNDD-FDD thinks that the future may even be worse than the current situation, since the system does not allow critics and clamps down on them with a brutality that generates more violence. “Now, unfortunately, the opposition is only fighting to replace those who are in power. The only active and responsible player is the civil society. But we do not know how long it can stand” he says. In April, Ernest Manirumva, vice-chairman of the Observatory of fight against corruption and embezzlements (Olucome), was executed by the state security. His murder still works as a deterrent for activists.