A top Burundian general on Wednesday launched a coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza, following weeks of violent protests against the president’s bid to stand for a third term.
Opposition protesters have been seeking to prevent Nkurunziza from standing for re-election, because they see him as a repressive, divisive leader incapable of reducing extreme poverty.
On May 8 he officially filed his candidacy for re-election. On Wednesday, as the president was out of the country, top Burundian General Godefroid Niyombare announced that “Nkurunziza is removed from office”.
The presidency denied the claim in a Twitter message, saying the attempted coup had “failed”.
– Repressive policies –
For years, the government has been accused of harassing its opponents.
On the frontlines of the protest movement that erupted in April are civil society groups, the main anti-government force since the opposition boycotted the 2010 vote.
Civil society leaders say they fear for their lives, and some end up in court facing charges they say are trumped-up.
Hundreds of people have meanwhile been arrested since protests against Nkurunziza’s bid to run for office again broke out.
Journalists also face intense pressure. Since the protests began, the country’s main radio station has been closed, while two others have been blocked from broadcasting to the countryside.
Accused of extra-judicially executing dozens of people — mainly opponents and rebels — Burundi’s police force is believed to be working with the ruling party’s Imbonerakure militia.
The government denies all the claims, and brands the protesters “terrorists”.
– Violating peace agreement –
Opponents say Nkurunziza’s bid to seek a third term is an unconstitutional violation of the Arusha agreement that established a fragile power-sharing balance to end the 1993-2006 civil war that pitted the then Tutsi-dominated army against Hutu rebels.
Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel chief, has come under fire over claims he is upsetting that balance.
Last year, he tried to amend the constitution in order to change the power-sharing system. Though he failed, his move pushed members of the main Tutsi party to flee the country.
The government is also seen as having given the Hutus dominance in the police force in violation of Arusha, which stipulates a strict parity between the two ethnic groups.
– Failure in the fight against poverty –
One of the world’s poorest countries, tiny Burundi is still struggling to recover from the civil war that left 300,000 people dead and completely shattered the economy.
More than half of the population suffers chronic malnutrition, and annual GDP just scrapes $260 (230 euros) per capita.
As prices continue to rise in the capital Bujumbura, students and jobless young people who can barely afford to get through the month now form the bulk of the anti-Nkurunziza protest movement.
The president takes pride in having built thousands of schools and making education free of charge.
Ironically, his opponents say education indicators have never been so low, and while the number of students grow, there are not enough trained professionals to teach them.
Corruption also plagues Burundi, which is ranked 159th out of 175 countries by watchdog Transparency International.
With much of the population struggling to put food on the table, politicians are seen as lining their own pockets.
On Saturday, Burundi’s government ordered the “insurgents” to end the weeks of demonstrations against Nkurunziza and the security forces began dismantling the protesters’ barricades.
A few days later General Niyombare, a powerful former intelligence chief, announced he was dismantling Nkurunziza’s government.