Systemic state-led repression leaves little hope for improvement in the new year.
Civil participation in Burundi’s political system will continue to stagnate in the new year. Freedom of expression has been effectively repressed and potentially carries the consequence of extrajudicial murder or torture. Violent silencing of government dissidents accelerated following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial constitutional reform in May 2018 that will allow him to extend his control to 2034.
Reports of close collaboration between the government youth wing, Imbonerakure, and the state security services are linked to the abduction, torture, rape, and murder of dissidents and journalists. The administration vehemently denies the allegations, claiming that both bodies act independently.
Conditions are unlikely to improve in 2019 given the relative impunity that the security services and Imbonerakure enjoy. Much of the government’s alleged abuses are difficult to report, as foreign journalists routinely have their visas denied and the administration overwhelmingly refuses to cooperate with international bodies, such as the UN. Nkurunziza’s indignant attitude towards critical external bodies is a troubling indicator of the future. Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court following the announcement of an investigation into crimes committed by the administration since April 2015 suggests that Nkurunziza’s administration is content in alienating itself from international purview if it is unfavourable.
Burundi’s approved national media register and frequent reports of media companies having their visas rejected suggest that access for foreign journalists in 2019 will remain virtually impossible. The 370,000 Burundian refugees, and those who will inevitably join them in the inadequate camps of neighbouring countries, will bear some of the most visceral consequences of Nkurunziza’s harsh regime in 2019. The overstretched camps of the Congo and Tanzania will continue to fill with those fleeing Nkurunziza’s regime so long civil expression is crushed in Burundi.