The first two weeks of April witnessed a sharp increase in the number of violent events in Burundi, as the country prepares to vote in the constitutional referendum on 17 May. The vote will consider support for: 1) reintroducing the post of Prime Minister; 2) reducing the number of vice presidents from two to one; 3) increasing the duration of the presidential term from 5 to 7 years, and restricting presidents to two consecutive terms. Yet, the will apply going forward, meaning that President Nkurunziza (in office since 2005 and having served 3 terms) can stand for re-election. It may also ban coalitions of opposition parties. Official campaigning for the referendum begins on 1 May and will continue for two weeks. Opposition to the constitutional amendments is likely to be silenced, as many voice that campaigning for ‘no’ is met with repression (Global Voices, 2 February 2018).

Widespread repression is typically faciliated by the regime party’s (CNDD-FDD) youth wing –the Imbonerakure. Imbonerakure youth intimidate the population public punishments, beatings, arbitrary arrests, raids and the violent imposition of night time curfews. At a meeting on 20 April, the president of the CNDD-FDD party urged Imbonerakure youth to remain vigilant against anyone trying to disrupt the election (RPA, 23 April 2018). This suggests that Imbonerakure youth will continue to play a leading role in violence during the electoral period in May (see Figure 2 for fatalities by Province).

This group has been publicly active since 2015, and this year, their activity peaked in February 2018 and has remained high through April. They are responsible for 58% of violence against civilians in 2018, and present in each of Burundi’s 18 provinces. However, from the beginning of April, Imbonerakure violence decreased by nearly 20%, as Burundian police forces took a more active role in repressive activity (see Figure 1). This increased role for police forces happened alongside the Burundi parliament’s 18 April vote to expand the power of security forces to carry out night raids without a search warrant (The East African, 19 April 2018).


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Burundi: Violence in the Run-Up to the Constitutional Referendum
James Moody
James Moody
Africa Research Manager
James Moody is Africa Research Manager with ACLED. In this role he oversees the coding of political violence and protest across all countries in Africa. He is also a Geography PhD Candidate at the University of Sussex. His research interests include protest movements across North and sub-Saharan Africa and the dynamics of civil war violence. His own research explores the rising wave of protest in the post-Arab uprising period, focusing on local level governance, forms of contention, and protest geography, diffusion, and escalation across Africa. James has country-specific knowledge on Egypt and Libya. He is based in Brighton, United Kingdom.
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