Running Out of Options in Burundi

After almost three years, the Inter-Burundi Dialogue has ended in failure. The talks, led by the East African Community (EAC), came in response to a political crisis sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s April 2015 decision to stand for a third term. They were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, notably EAC member states’ divisions and disinterest. Even now, regional leaders refuse to hand over the mediation to either the African Union (AU) or the UN, but are not prepared to commit wholeheartedly to resolving the crisis. The paralysis is worrying, as elections are due in 2020 and, unless political tensions ease, the risk of violence is high. No one expects the polls to be free or fair, but they could at least be peaceful with opposition politicians able to compete without fear of reprisal, thereby preserving a degree of pluralism that might help prevent a worse descent into conflict. This report examines the response to the Burundian crisis, in particular the EAC led Inter-Burundi Dialogue that followed, analysing the various actors’ positions and laying out the reasons for the mediation’s failure. It also looks ahead to the 2020 elections, presenting options that could pave the way for a more credible and peaceful poll than now seems possible. It is based on interviews with Burundian politicians, journalists and civil society figures, as well as African and Western diplomats.