Central African leaders are concerned by the situation in Burundi but none of them does condemn Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, in violation of the constitution, according to the opposition.
Regional leaders are very concerned by the situation in Burundi, the flow of 120,000 refugees
to the neighbouring countries and the cholera epidemics in the camps. This is why, at a special East African Community (EAC) summit on Burundi on the last 31 May special summit on Burundi, in Dar-es-Salaam, in an attempt to defuse tensions, they called for a postponement of at least one month and half of the local and parliament elections, initially scheduled for the 26 May and postponed a first time to the 5 June.
Eventually, the Burundian government decided to postpone them to the 29 June and to postpone as well the presidential election, scheduled on the 26 June to the 15 July. But political opponents and civil society activists in Bujumbura expressed their “disappointment” for the decision since Nkurunziza’s colleagues failed to take a position on the essential issue: his decision to run for a third mandate, which contradicts both the 2000 Arusha Peace Agreement and the 2006 Constitution of Burundi.
But EAC leaders, just as their colleagues of the broader International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) which groups beside EAC member states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania Uganda), Angola, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, South Sudan, Sudan and Zambia, do not want to get involved in discussions over constitutional matters. On their last 18 May summit in Luanda, IRCGL leaders condemned the coup attempt of the 13 May in Burundi and stated that Nkurunziza’s legitimacy could not be questioned.
Despite their reservations over Nkurunziza’s poor governance skills, regional leaders have thus shown their solidarity with him. Their own will to remain in office explains this attitude. In the 1990s, the winds of democratic change forced African leaders to accept multiparty systems and constitutional changes. And many did so provided that this new framework allowed to remain in power. But if the constitution becomes an obstacle, in their opinion, it had to be changed.
In their mind strongmen have to prevail upon strong institutions. One of the greatest supporters of Nkurunziza and most prominent figures of this “Presidents’ Union” is Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has a vested interest in remaining in office to keep family members holding key positions, such his son, José Filomeno, the head of the Oil Sovereign Fund or his daughter, Isabel, who controls a business empire, including telecoms, bank, energy and diamond companies. Dos Santos who is in office since 1979, has managed to get the constitution amended in 2010 and the new text allows him to run for a third mandate since the end of the war in 2002, beginning in 2017.
Understandably, dos Santos would feel more comfortable if he were not the only leader in such situation, which is why, he supports not only Nkurunziza but also President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville. The latter recently launched a dialogue with political parties, the civil society and the churches to persuade them to change the constitution and abolish the 70 years limit it sets for presidential candidates in order to be able to run for a third term in 2016. The African Presidents’ Union is not a dream but a working concept. The Paris-based West Africa Newsletter reported recently that Sassou financed the electoral campaign of his junior Togolese colleague, Faure Gnassingbé who was elected for a third mandate on the last 15 April, after polls which were marred by fraud according to the opposition.
It is no wonder either that the President of the other Congo, Joseph Kabila is one of Nkurunziza’s staunchest supporters. He is fighting himself a difficult battle to become his own successor after November 2016. After having faced huge protests in January against his attempts to change the constitution in order to be able to run for a third term, Kabila has tried several tricks. One consists in the territorial reform, launched in April 2015, which consists in the creation of 15 new provinces, which inevitably generate new expenditures which are not envisaged in the 2015 budget and compete with the election budget. Indeed, many of the new provinces lack the buildings, the infrastructures and the equipments to start operating.
These new costs might provide an excuse to postpone the local and provincial elections which are scheduled for October. The aim is to justify a shift of the entire electoral calendar to postpone the next presidential contest to which Kabila cannot participate. Another episode of this strategy was the opening in early June of a political dialogue with some opposition parties, including Étienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress. According to sources at the Senate, Kabila expects that the dialogue could end up with the appointment of a new transition government which would freeze the constitution and seek consensus to elaborate a new one, which would eventually allow the current President to run again. But the trouble for Kabila is that UN Security Council Resolution 2211 of the last 26 March stresses the importance to hold on time the presidential and parliament elections scheduled for November 2016.
In neighbouring Rwanda, the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front is preparing the public opinion to the acceptance of a constitutional change, which would allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third term in 2017. By the last 10 June, four million people had signed a petition, requesting the parliament to amend the constitution to that effect. It is expected that the Parliament will debate on such amendment and approve it sometime between now and the 4 August. Critics however object that all the signatures were not spontaneous since they were collected by the administration.
The veteran of the region, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who will celebrate next year his 30th anniversary as President, is another specialist of constitutional changes to allow heads of state to remain in office. In 2005, he organised a referendum which approved a constitution which allows him to be re-elected indefinitely. Its Article 105 stipulates that “a person may be elected to hold as President for one or more terms”. In 2016, Museveni should stand for a fifth mandate after his party approved recently a resolution urging him to stand again “in a show of solidarity” with the Uganda people. Ironically, Museveni’s own official website mentions a statement he made when he was sworn in on the 29 January 1986, which said that “the main problem in Africa is of leaders who do not want to leave power’