The Burundi president, whose re-election in 2015 triggered a political and economic crisis, said on national television yesterday that the country was sovereign and that changing its constitution was part of its sovereignty.
He warned all those who wanted to challenge the constitutional changes that they would face hardship, adding that it was God’s plan.
In power since 2005 after a decade of civil war, Nkurunziza’s re-election was criticised as illegal and led to killings and more than 400000 refugees fleeing the country, triggering a Great Lakes humanitarian crisis.
Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, announced this plan in Bugendana district, in front of several allies and security forces, who gathered for the event.
If the constitution is amended, Nkurunziza will be allowed to stay in power until 2034, and his presidential terms will last seven years.
The Burundi government is also facing a lack of funds and is obliging the population to fund the 2020 elections. According to the Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye, even secondary-school-aged youths of 18 years who are allowed to vote would contribute.
“This will be a network organised since the top to the bottom of the country's leadership and everyone will contribute. However, it is a volunteer contribution, no obligation, but all the people asked to fund the elections, so everyone will contribute,” Barandagiye said.
The opposition rejects the proposed reforms, and giving contributions to the 2020 elections, saying the government was forcing the country into chaos.
Pencrace Cimpaye, the spokesperson of Burundi’s largest coalition of political parties in exile, said the constitutional amendment was a declaration of war against all those who backed the Arusha agreement in 2002, and that limited presidential terms to two terms.
According to Gabriel Rufyiri, president of an anti-bribe group known as Alucome, said people were impoverished and asking them to fund elections was adding to their suffering as some of the population could not even eat once a day.
“The government is only focusing on the elections of 2020.
"Other plans are abandoned and this will negatively affect the population,” Rufyiri said.
Diplomatic sources in Bujumbura report that many countries had failed to convince the Burundi president not to change the constitution.
The international mediators asked the Burundi government to postpone the amendment to give a chance to the ongoing peace process in Arusha, Tanzania, but the government rejected the offer, claiming its sovereignty.
- Independent Foreign Service