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BURUNDI: Nkurunziza strikes deal to end political stalemate

BUJUMBURA, 1 October 2007 (IRIN) - After many weeks of a political deadlock that saw the Burundian parliament fail to pass any laws, President Pierre Nkurunziza has announced a deal with opposition parties to end the stalemate, a move welcomed by political analysts and observers as positive for the country's peace process.

"Burundi needs to settle this internal political crisis; and we can only welcome Nkurunziza's change of tone since his previous speech in August, which was critical of the opposition," David Mugnier, the central Africa project director of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on 1 October in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Mugnier was commenting on Nkurunziza's announcement that he had reached an agreement with opposition parties represented in the National Assembly to end the standoff that had paralysed the country's political institutions.

Speaking on national radio and television on 27 September in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, Nkurunziza said the agreement had been reached on power-sharing in the government, to guarantee the right of political parties to meet freely; to fight corruption; and to reinstate opposition members dismissed from the government.

Nkurunziza's announcement follows weeks of consultations with the main opposition parties, the Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) and the Union pour le progrès national (UPRONA).

However, FRODEBU chairman Leonce Ngendakumana said: “To address cases of corruption and embezzlement and the reform of the security forces will take long but the organisation of political parties or the reinstatement of local leaders dismissed is very easy.”

For about a month, FRODEBU and UPRONA had stopped participating in parliamentary debate, resulting in delays in bills being passed and other parliamentary procedures. They were protesting at not getting the portfolios they are constitutionally entitled to according to their performance in the 2005 general election. Nkurunziza's Conseil national de défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) won the elections.

While seeing Nkurunziza's latest announcement as a positive move, Mugnier cautioned: "Let's wait for the results on the ground," adding, "If Burundi could move beyond this political crisis it could see a revival of the country's peace process."

Internal pressure

However, Jean-Marie Gasana, a senior analyst for Africa at the NGO Forum on Early Warning Response (FEWER), said it was one thing for Nkurunziza to make the promise to resolve the stalemate, "but it is another to see which will be the real centre of decision-making within the ruling party that will get things done".

He said Nkurunziza's deal with the opposition parties was a result of internal political pressure as well as external diplomatic and economic pressure.

Many Burundians are tired of empty promises since CNDD-FDD came to power two years ago, Gasana said, adding that it remained to be seen whether or not the latest deal would have a positive impact on the country's development, "given that everyone [politicians] in Burundi is now playing a card to position themselves for the elections", due in 2010.

Gaspard Nduwayo, a Bujumbura-based political analyst and senior political science lecturer at the University of Burundi, said the inaction by the National Assembly had had "serious" consequences for the nation as "the government was itself paralysed".

He said: "The president could not appoint people to some posts, could not propose [to] the national assembly to debate urgent laws; he simply could not work.”

Instead of agreeing on power sharing, Nduwayo said, the political parties should have agreed on some principles and a programme to boost the nation's economy.

Deal with rebels

Nkurunziza also addressed the issue of the implementation of a peace accord reached in September 2006 between his government and the country's remaining rebel movement, the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) of Agathon Rwasa.

“We reassured all those who believe [that] the government has plans to wage a military campaign against the FNL," he said. "Even if FNL combatants have on several occasions attempted to provoke the security forces, they did not fall in the FNL trap.”

But, reacting to Nkurunziza’s call, FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana said the condition to resume talks with the government was "simple and clear: the appointment of a new mediator”. The FNL has rejected South African security minister Charles Nqakula as mediator, accusing him of bias, and walked out of the talks.

In a report issued on 28 September, the ICG said that for Burundi to move beyond its long civil war and to strengthen democratic institutions and ensure respect for the rule of law, a genuine peace agreement was needed with the FNL, "which is not strong enough to fight a new war but remains a power in most western provinces".

"This requires a new commitment by the government to a negotiated solution, not a military one, and a revived facilitation effort especially by regional states," ICG said. "The country needs a genuine peace agreement to put the conflict behind it, as evidenced by the fact that the rebel delegation’s hasty departure from Bujumbura in July 2007 precipitated widespread fear fighting would resume."

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
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