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Burundi, the second unhappiest place in the world, is on the brink of civil war following the president’s refusal to step down


Burundi police fire tear gas and water cannon at protesters

Burundi police fire tear gas and water cannon at protesters

PROTESTERS rallying against Burundi’s president deciding to run for a third term in office have been brutally attacked by police, with at least two dead following the clash.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has already filled his two constitutionally-permitted presidential terms, has declared himself a contender for another term by saying his first does not count because he was appointed by parliament.

A protester runs past a Burundian police riot van in Musaga, on the outskirts of Bujumbur

A protester runs past a Burundian police riot van in Musaga, on the outskirts of Bujumbura, on April 27, 2015. Picture: AFP Photo/ Simon Maina Source: AFP

Thousands have since defied the government’s ban on protests, taking to the streets to rally against the president, saying his actions are unconstitutional and threaten a peace deal that ended the 12-year civil war in 2005.

Why African nation Burundi is so unhappy

Protest … A makeshift roadblock erected by opposition protesters burns on a street in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi on Monday, as anger mounts over the ruling party’s decision on Saturday to nominate President Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term. Picture: AP Photo/Eloge Willy Kaneza Source: AP

Shocking images of police brutality have since emerged, showing a nation historically plagued by civil unrest rapidly escalating into violence after years of relative peace.

Spiralling out of control ... A bleeding protester is assisted during clashes between pol

Spiralling out of control … A bleeding protester is assisted during clashes between police and protesters in Cibitoke, a district of Bujumbura, on April 26 as protests escalate over a bid by the president to seek a third term. Picture: AFP Photo / Esdras Ndikumana Source: AFP

THE US government has released a statement condemning the president’s decision to run for a third term, saying that “with this decision, Burundi is losing a historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy by establishing a tradition of peaceful democratic transition.

“The United States deeply regrets the decision by Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy — Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), to disregard the term-limit provisions of the Arusha Agreement by naming President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate for a third presidential term.

“The United States continues to support the Burundian people’s peaceful pursuit of their democratic rights and freedoms”.

Civil unrest

Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, the African nation has been engulfed in bursts of violence and civil war, eventually resulting in the slaughter of 300,000 people.

Fuelled by longstanding ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, violence escalated quickly following the assassination of democratically-elected president Hutu Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993 during a military coup.

The 1993 election was important because it was the first democratically-held election in Burundi, allowing the people to choose not only their head of state, but also allow for a parliament dominated by a Hutu party — traditionally the less powerful majority.

Going back ... Burundi is a nation stymied by ethnic conflict. Picture: AFP Photo/Simon M

Going back … Burundi is a nation stymied by ethnic conflict. Picture: AFP Photo/Simon Maina Source: AFP

After Melchior Ndadaye’s death, as many as 150,000 Tutsi were killed as retribution, with another 50,000 people killed in smaller outbreaks of violence.

From then on, following another military coup, leadership attempts and calls for peace from the United Nations, infighting continued until peace talks began in 1995 under former Tanzian president, Julius Nyerere.

In 2001, the talks were successfully concluded under the stewardship of South African president Nelson Mandela, and a new government was installed on November 1 of that year. The country was to be led by a Tutsi president (Buyoya) for 18 months and a Hutu president (Domitien Ndayizeye) for the next 18 months.

Unconstitutional ... Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza decision to become a third-ter

Unconstitutional … Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza decision to become a third-terms president has the potential to reignite civil war. Picture: AFP/ Francois Guillot Source: AFP

In April 2003, Ndayizeye succeeded Buyoya as president under the terms of the 2001 agreement, later signing a peace treaty with rebel leaders that largely ended the civil war.

In 2005, the current president and source of tensions, Pierre Nkurunziza, was elected by a two-thirds majority.

History

During the colonial period Burundi was part of the German East Africa colony along with Rwanda and Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania).

Following Germany’s WW1 loss, the region was divided between Britain and Belgium, with Burundi falling into Belgian hands, who renamed Burundi and Rwanda into Rwanda-Urundi.

In order to control the population, Belgium reinforced existing power structures, supporting the Tutsi ruling class — led by Mwami Mwambutsa IV — and favouring the Tutsi over the Hutu economically and politically until 1962, further fuelling the already inflamed ethnic tensions between the two groups.

Burundi successfully claimed independence on July 1, 1962, instilling a constitutional monarchy with Mwambutsa IV as king and both Hutus and Tutsis represented in parliament.

Yet, despite the independence, Burundi continued to be plagued by ethnic tensions between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.

Economics

Burundi is a poor and densely populated country, with most citizens engaged in subsistence agriculture, according to GlobalSecurity.org. The modern sector is almost exclusively based on coffee and tea exports, and has been damaged by economic embargoes placed on it by neighbouring nations in 1996.

Horror ... Protesters walk next to a burning barricade during clashes with police in Cibi

Horror … Protesters walk next to a burning barricade during clashes with police in Cibitoke, north-western Burundi, protesters continue to defy the government’s orders to cease. Picture: AFP Photo/ Esdras Ndikumana Source: AFP

In addition, the ongoing violence has severely disrupted economic activity in the nation, with many Burundians left without homes, unable to produce their own crops and left to depend on international assistance.

As a result, Burundi has recently been named as the second most unhappy place to live on the planet, according to the 2015 World Happiness Report.

It was part of several countries — all in Sub-Saharan Africa — least satisfied with their lives, such as neighbouring Rwanda, the Central African Republic, Benin and the unhappiest of all, Togo.

“Governments seeking to improve the happiness of their populations should spend a higher proportion of their health budgets on mental illness, which is the single biggest “determinant of misery” in countries assessed, the study authors said.

“People can be unhappy for many reasons — from poverty to unemployment to family breakdown to physical illness,” the report said. “But in any particular society, chronic mental illness is a highly influential cause of misery.

“If we want a happier world, we need a completely new deal on mental health.”

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