On 25 April 2015, the ruling political party in Burundi, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), announced that the incumbent President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, would run for a third term in the 2015 presidential election. The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office.
Widespread demonstrations in the then-capital, Bujumbura, lasted for over three weeks. During that time the country’s highest court approved Nkurunziza’s right to run for a third term in office despite the fact that at least one of the court’s judges fled the country claiming he had received death threats from members of the government. As a result of the protests the government also shut down the country’s internet and telephone network, closed all of the country’s universities and government officials publicly referred to the protesters as “terrorists”. In April, tens of thousands of people fled the country, hundreds of people were arrested and several protesters and police officers were killed while dozens more were injured.
On 13 May 2015, a coup was announced, led by Major General Godefroid Niyombare, while President Nkurunziza was in Tanzania attending an emergency conference about the situation in the country. By the next day the coup collapsed and government forces reasserted control. On 11 December, almost 90 people were killed in attacks on state targets.
The Burundian Civil War lasted from 1993 to 2005, and an estimated 300,000 people were killed. The conflict ended with a peace process that brought in the 2005 constitution providing guaranteed representation for both Hutu and Tutsi, and parliamentary elections that led to Pierre Nkurunziza, from the Hutu FDD, becoming president.
Since 2005, poverty has remained a major problem. According to the World Bank, over 60% of Burundians do not have enough food. The country’s government does not have enough money to fund needed programs and the economy is reliant on coffee exports whose price has fluctuated radically in recent years and made long-term financial planning nearly impossible.
On 4 May 2015, the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court fled the country following alleged death threats from senior figures in the government. The judge claimed that most of the seven judges on the country’s highest court believed it would be unconstitutional for Nkurunziza to be elected again.United States Secretary of StateJohn Kerry also stated on 4 May that Nkurunziza’s nomination “flies directly in the face of the constitution.”
Following the departures of four of the seven judges who sit on Burundi’s constitutional court (including the Vice-President), the remaining judges approved Nkurunziza’s right to run for a third term in office. Members of the opposition described the court’s ruling as “manipulated.”
Critics of the president say his actions jeopardise a peace deal that has kept ethnic tensions in check since the Burundian Civil War ended in 2005 and that Nkurunziza is not constitutionally permitted to seek a third term in office; his supporters argue that his first 5-year term should not count because he was elected by a parliamentary vote rather than a popular vote.