Mr. Nkurunziza, We Warned You

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Last April, when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced, contrary to the country’s constitution, he would seek a third term, opposition forces in the country vigorously opposed the move. As a follow-up, they staged a series of demonstrations, trying desperately to stop him from running.

The Daily Observer, though published in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa, across the continent, and very far away from Burundi, wrote an editorial appealing to President Nkurunziza not to run. We warned that because of the divisiveness of such a move, he would risk the possibility of plunging the country into another civil war. Amidst his insistence on running, sections of the Burundian armed forces staged a coup d’état that was later foiled. But that did not deflect the people’s anger. Far from it, the protests continued unabated and, as expected, the stubborn and power hungry President Nkurunziza responded with murderous brutality. Soon, on a daily basis, there were dead bodies found everywhere.

The chaos and mayhem became too much for neighboring Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who accused the Burundi leader of killing his own people. “What kind of politics is this?” Kagame asked.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged all stakeholders to start inclusive dialogue. He stressed the urgent need for a decisive action from the international community to stop this senseless violence. “We cannot turn our backs on the people of Burundi at this turning point of their history,” he said.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, too, has condemned the indiscriminate killings in Bujumbura and warned that the country was on the brink of civil war.

The U.N. chief expressed alarm at the “chilling escalation in violence between government forces and armed fighters.”

At least 87 people, including eight security men, died Friday when an unidentified group of more than 150 people attacked three military facilities. Rights groups say this was the worst violence since the crisis over presidential term limits began with street protests that boiled over into the attempted military coup in May.

Ban Ki-Moon told a news conference that his special adviser, Jamal Benomar, will travel to the region before the end of the week to press the African Union, regional groups, neighboring countries and Burundi’s government to urgently start a political dialogue involving all parties.

“We must do all we can to prevent mass violence and act decisively should it erupt,” he declared.

The Secretary General said the U.N. may have to ramp up its presence and activities, depending on the situation.

He outlined two other options to the U.N. Security Council — a political mission and a peacekeeping force.

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, called the situation in Burundi “horrific” and stressed that there is currently no dialogue among the parties on the ground. She warned of the risk that the conflict will become “more of an ethnic conflict than a political one.”

Now the African Union, too, has added its voice to the bloody conflict in Burundi. The AU said yesterday that Africa “will not allow another genocide to take place on its soil.”

The question that the world is asking is, how is it possible that one man, because of his greed for power, can allow his country to descend into another senseless civil war in which hundreds of thousands could die and even more people driven into displacement and destitution?

We are grateful that powerful people and institutions such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, US Ambassador Power and the African Union have added their voices to the grave urgency of the situation in Burundi. These utterances must be followed up with immediate action on the ground in Bujumbura and elsewhere in Burundi to stop the bloodshed and bring all the warring factions and the government to the conference table.

One move that could definitely contribute to the cessation of bloodshed and tension would be for Pierre Nkurunziza to step down as President, realizing that it is he, more than anyone else, who is responsible for all the bloodshed and the imminence of civil war.

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