Alexis Sinduhije: “The international community, obsessed with stability… chose a rigged election managed by a police state rather than a vibrant democracy where the opinions of all are respected”
From Alexis Sinduhije in The East African:
John, 35, the youth leader of UPD, the Union for Peace and Development, was arrested by Burundi intelligence in early June and accused of being a security threat to the state.
He was taken to their secret offices where he was tortured, his right ear cut off and his penis and testicles shoved into a gourd.
He was later moved to the central prison but the damage has been done; he is now infertile.//
Many members of different opposition parities have been arrested, tortured and threatened throughout the country.
The official count according to human-rights organisations is 200 but that is only those we know of; many more incidents are happening in military posts and police stations across the country.
Those that have been arrested, threatened and tortured are the lucky ones – others have been killed in broad daylight, in their homes.
On June28, Ladislas Ntiharirizwa and his wife Christine were at home in Muramvya province relaxing after their evening meal when grenades were thrown into their house and they were both killed, leaving behind a small baby of 3 months and a child of 3 years.
Their crime was to be members of MSD, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy.
The same night, in the same town, a grenade was thrown into the house of a Frodebu leader killing his 7-year-old son and leaving him gravely injured.
Later, in the far east of the country, in the small town of Gisuru bordering Tanzania, the Imbonerakure (the youth militia of the ruling party CNDD-FDD) with the support of the police, attacked several families, members of the FNL party, in their homes with clubs, pangas and jembes.
The result was the death of four and the hospitalisation of five others, most of whom are still in hospital.//
Many young members of the opposition have fled their homes and jobs across the country. Their future is uncertain.
They thought they were growing up in a period of democracy in Burundi, after the years and years of war that their parents and grandparents suffered through.
However, they have learned that today, in Burundi, being a member of a political party that is not the one that is in power is a crime and your life will be destroyed.
They have learned that freedom of expression and opinion is a right held only by the party in power.
The opposition does not have much room to manoeuvre in.
The one choice open to them that they should not even consider is to cease to function.
The opposition in Burundi cannot afford to disappear or become puppets of the regime.
Although the political space is growing smaller and smaller as Burundi falls under the influence of the Kagame regime next door, political diversity is a must in this country that knows too well the impact of decades of military dictatorship.
The second choice is to flee the country and operate from exile as has happened across Africa under oppressive regimes.
Already this option is being witnessed as three leaders of opposition parties have fled the county fearing for their lives and many members of opposition parties have gone into hiding within the country.//
This is hardly surprising given the large number of arrests and assassinations that have already taken place.
The third option is to return to the violence and permanent civil unrest that the country has known since Independence.
This is not a choice that the opposition, or any citizen would welcome.
However – given the fact that all attempts at dialogue requested by the opposition have been refused and that the international community has sat quiet while electoral fraud, abuse of human rights and violence has taken place this option – sadly may yet become a reality.
The international community, obsessed with stability has turned a blind eye to all these manoeuvrings and abuses of human rights and of freedom of expression; they chose a rigged election managed by a police state rather than a vibrant democracy where the opinions of all are respected.
In June the opposition leaders called for support from the East African Community.
They naively thought that the leaders in the neighbouring paper democracies would insist on transparent electoral processes.
They had hoped that the region’s leaders would call upon the party in power to stop arresting, torturing and assassinating the political opposition.//
But they forgot that the East African Community was an old boys’ club and no one was going to rock the boat in this period of multiple elections across the region.
They forgot that leaders across the region have the same attitude to democratic elections; that across the region elections are rigged and the results of the elections known before the populace even goes to the polls. The EAC has chosen to support the perpetrators of abuse and not the victims.
We realise that if democracy is to be saved, it is for us to do it.
Political opposition and civil society need to stay strong and courageous in Burundi. We cannot return to the dictatorships that have oppressed our country for decades. We, the political opposition of Burundi, need to be an example to the region. We need to show how political pluralism can build a country, not destroy it.
What is the value of the East African Community if its members hide their heads in the sand and support oppressive regimes that do not respect basic human rights?
If we are serious about democracy in Africa we need to stop this Mickey Mouse game.
We have power holders who create fake opposition parties merely to show that there is “competition” – while there is no real diversity of opinion.
The naiveté of the foreign ministers in the region was is revealed in statements such as the one Kenya’s Moses Wetangula made in June when he said, “The EAC will insist on the democratisation of all member states to avoid a situation that could lead to disharmony and to ensure that they contribute positively to the wellbeing of the region.”
What form of democracy is he talking about?
Is it a democracy where parties that speak out against the regimes in power are destroyed, their members arrested, killed and tortured?
We need to hold our leaders accountable so that all can have their basic needs met and their rights respected.
As Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian political scientist says: “If Africans want democracy, they must be willing to pay the price. No one will pay it for them. Nor will they obtain it on credit.”
Alexis Sinduhije is president of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy.