Grenade Attacks in Burundi in Lead-up to Election

Over the weekend, numerous grenade attacks in Burundi killed four and wounded approximately 30. The government and the opposition have pointed fingers at each other, with neither side stepping forward and taking responsibility.

Three of the attacks targeted bars. The bloodiest attack, which killed four and injured 25, was in Ngozi, the northern province home to current President Pierre Nkurunziza. Another was in Kirundo, where one person was hurt, and a third was in Muyinga, with no casualties. The fourth was in Bujumbura on June 22 in the Musaga neighborhood and two patrolling police officers were injured. On June 19, a separate attack in Bujumbura injured 11 police officers.

Grenade attacks have become more common as the country nears its upcoming presidential election on July 15. Human rights groups say that at least 70 people have been killed and 500 have been wounded since protests began in April.

Protests began in late April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for reelection, which critics say violate both the Constitution and a peace deal that ended the civil war 10 years ago. Both limit the president to two terms of five years, and Nkrunziza is running for a third term.

Unfortunately, the only other viable candidate in Burundi’s election is Agathon Rwasa, the main opposition leader. Rwasa has a violent past as the head of the National Liberation Forces (FNL); under his lead, the FNL has carried out attacks on civilians and has been labeled a terrorist organization by several African countries.

The conflict could increase tensions between the Tutsi minority and Hutu majority. Following the civil war that began in 1993 between the Tutsi party in power and Hutu rebel groups, ethnic problems dissipated slightly, but they are becoming more prominent. The youth wing of the ruling  CNDD-FDD party (National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy), the Imbonerakure, has been attacking ethnic Tutsis to deter them from joining opposition movements and protesting against the government. Additionally, Rwasa is also Hutu, and part of his violent history has included targeting of Tutsis.

Burundi’s neighbor to the north, Rwanda, has similarly seen major problems with fighting between Hutu and Tutsi. The upcoming election, if it goes well, has the potential to set a good example of differing ethnic groups putting aside their past to come together. If it goes poorly, the region could find itself in the midst of another ethnic crisis. In order to maintain regional peace and stability, it is crucial that the election runs smoothly.

Moreover, President Pierre Nkurunziza has come under scrutiny for his attempts to bypass the Constitution to run for a third term, but he is simply following precedent already set by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who originally came to power in 1986 and has altered the Ugandan Constitution in order to allow him to continue to run for reelection. Rwandan President Paul Kagame is also expected to try to change the Rwandan Constitution to retain power, following Museveni’s example. Both Museveni and Kagame have had their extension of terms overlooked by the US because of their importance as security partners, so as an important contributor to the fight against Al Shabab, why should Nkurunziza be any different?