Towards Durable Democracy in Burundi? An Assessment of the Promise and Pitfalls of Democratization in Burundi

PRIO Paper

Falch, Åshild (2009) Towards Durable Democracy in Burundi? An Assessment of the Promise and Pitfalls of Democratization in Burundi, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

Abstract

The transition to democracy in 2005 is commonly seen as a turning point in Burundi’s history. Prior to the transition, there were many reasons for optimism about Burundi’s future: the major rebel group during the 1994-2005 civil war (the Conceil national pour la défense de la démocratie - Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, or CNDD-FDD) had put down its weapons and registered as a political party, a new Constitution laying the ground for the introduction of a democratic order had been approved in a referendum, and a new electoral code had been adopted. In the summer of 2005, Burundi carried out its first democratic elections in over a decade, and with the installation of a CNDD-FDD-led grand coalition government in August 2005, the stage seemed set for a consolidation of democracy and peace.

Since then, there has been progress in the peacebuilding process, but an array of governance problems continue to hinder further consolidation of Burundi’s emerging democracy. After its electoral victory in 2005, the CNDD-FDD established itself as Burundi’s dominant political party. However, despite constitutional requirements to share power with other political parties, the CNDD-FDD has taken almost full control of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government, and eliminated many of the checks and balances that are necessary for a functioning democracy.

Several challenges need to be overcome in order to ensure a consolidation of the democratic political order in Burundi. First, the CNDD-FDD´s reluctance to share political power has led to a highly dysfunctional government, increasing distrust and a lack of dialogue between major political parties. Second, the CNDD-FDD’s repression of political opposition and civil society has blocked important democratic spaces. Third, the continued weakness of state institutions has led to frustration among the population at the minimal progress and a loss in popular legitimacy of the regime. Forth, in order to ensure a democratic civil peace, the remaining rebel group, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL), must be transformed into a political party. And finally, there are numerous challenges related to ensuring that the upcoming elections in 2010 become free, peaceful and fair.

Although the risk of a return to civil war at present seems small in Burundi, the semi-democratic nature of the regime may trigger violence that could spark renewed violent conflict. In order to achieve long-lasting peace, it is vital that national and international stakeholders coordinate their efforts to foster a political climate conducive to transiting Burundi away from the limbo between democracy and autocracy that it now finds itself in.