Presidential [s]election in Burundi: lessons to regional politics.

The recently concluded presidential as well as National Assembly [s]elections in Burundi in which the ruling CNDD–FDD party candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, was [s]elected the country’s new President in what is likely to turn into a bitterly disputed landslide presidential [s]election, offer – from an outsider’s perspective – some crucial lessons, not least in regional politics.

What has happened in Burundi, that is, the seemingly “peaceful” transfer of power – questions of its credibility notwithstanding – is a turning point in the country’s politics and notably its democratic history.

It’s worth reminding that, according to results released by the country’s national election commission, the [s]elected President, Evariste Ndayishimiye, of the ruling party CNDD–FDD, is reported to have garnered 68.72 percent of the votes to secure a majority victory; while his main challenger, Agathon Rwasa, won 24.19 percent of the total votes cast.

Some might, and indeed will convincingly argue, and for their own expediency, will want and thus attempt to project the [recent] political events in Burundi as an exemplary and inspiring historic act of a “peaceful” and “democratic” transfer of [political] power, albeit, and more important to note, within the same ruling party CNDD-FDD.

Although what has happened in Burundi’s politics looks more like and is appropriately analogous to an organisational internal promotion process; especially promoting a current and active board member to a CEO position and hence transfer of power – organisational leadership – from a retiring CEO. But of course, without the external pretence of the public participating in a time as well as national (government) resources wasting voting process, only for external formality and, more common in Africa, for external validation; usually from western political powers.

The motive for Burundi’s, or more specifically President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ruling party CNDD-FDD to conduct the [s]election is rather unclear because, given the political circumstances – having isolated themselves from the outside world; they weren’t seeking external validation. They could have easily conducted the power transfer process and settled the matter internally, that is, within the party caucus and release a press communiqué to announce the subsequent changes in the power structures and national leadership. And the wheels on the CNDD-FDD bus would continue to go round and round, sans souci.

That said, many [voices] will and some have indeed begun to boldly claim, Burundi, more precisely the outgoing President, Pierre Nkurunziza – who will be remembered more for his public appearance and demonstrated devotion on his knees praying to the Christian God and his unassuming public demeanour – has set a historic political and “democratic” precedent not only in Burundi’s political and democratic history but right across the East African region, bar Tanzania.

The veracity of such claim is a serious if not a contentiously divisive topic of intense and equally divisive debate. But that’s rather a moot point, at least for now and the sake of the focus and interest of this piece.

The focus and a matter of interest here is Burundi and its [seemingly] democratically evolving internal political dynamics and its future democratic trajectory; at least on the outset, and from an external observer’s perspective.

Admittedly, the internal realities could well and shockingly be a world apart from and a complete contrast to what has, thus far, been carefully and successfully projected by the ruling party CNDD-FDD and its government. Politics of image and external perception management.

In fact, many are doubting the claim of a “peaceful” national [s]election in which accusations of widespread intimidation, coercion and downright brutality meted on voters by government security organs in the lead up to and during the [s]election day, have been publicly and loudly made. Notably by some prominent candidates contesting, if not simply playing [a] fools game, in an orchestrated national political [s]election process in which victory and the winner have long been predetermined by the ruling party, CNDD-FDD, and subsequently legitimising the charade.

It’s hard to dismiss such strong accusations given that the only information about the [s]elections was coming largely from news channels tightly controlled by the government which took extreme measures, in its attempt to control information flow, by shutting down social media platforms across the country.

The ruling party CNDD-FDD candidate and now [s]elected as the new President, Evariste Ndayishimiye, is said to have been handpicked by the outgoing President, Pierre Nkurunziza, as his right-hand man and therefore best to succeed him.

The incoming President, Evariste Ndayishimiye, will lead the country in which President Pierre Nkurunziza will undoubtedly – assuming and hopefully, the new President honours his pledge or “secret” contract with President Pierre Nkurunziza and there’s no a “João Lourenço – José Eduardo dos Santos” sudden turn of events after he consolidates power – play an important and active role of a “supreme guide to patriotism“.

Although it remains widely unclear what “supreme guide to patriotism” really means and, more importantly, how that role will actively play out into action with, if possible, meaningfully measurable and impactful outcomes, nationally and politically. Time is the best arbiter!

The concluded [s]elections in Burundi, however, may well have marked a critical turning point in the country’s political and democratic process; and hopefully, if it can be sustained, will have set the right political and democratic tone and path for the future.

Judged purely on the basis of Burundi’s recent political and democratic performance, it’s no doubt the country has achieved a significant milestone. Consequently, Burundi’s giant political and democratic milestone offers valuable lessons, not least in[to] regional politics.

The lessons and key takeaway from Burundi’s political and democratic milestone:

1. Burundi has demonstrated that, with political will and determination, a peaceful and democratic transfer of power is indeed a possibility. It remains to be seen whether or not Burundi’s peaceful and democratic power transfer is sustainable in the long-term and in the future.

2. Burundi has demonstrated that, such political will and determination lies and rests, by and large – especially in regional political context – in the hands of the incumbent political power structure (system), that is, both the individual at the top and the entire political network (system), undoubtedly with heavily vested interests and therefore motivated by and acting in self-interest, that support and constitute the political force around the individual at the top – the apotheosis of the system – representing and henceforth the face of the ruling system.

3. It’s often the collective competing interests of the individuals that constitute the ruling system, that make peaceful transfer of power an impossible feat. Threatened by the thought and possibility of losing their vested interests, nonetheless competing individually amongst themselves and internally, they coalesce to protect and fend off what otherwise to them is more than merely perceived but serious existential external threat, that is, peaceful power transfer.

4. “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” quote attributed to Joseph Stalin. What’s equally and interestingly realistic to consider is that it’s not only, if at all, those who count the votes that count, but who has the power to decide whether or not, and when to call for national [s]elections. Such power[ful force] has, usually, decided on the outcome of the [s]elections. And that is usually whoever has the power and control over the national [s]electoral commission and from whom it gets and therefore owes its mandate and power to act.

In regional political context, it is usually and undoubtedly the political party in government; which is, more often than not, the ruling and dominant political force. Consequently, this might help explain the outcome of Burundi’s national [s]elections, although it should not be used as the basis to attempt to diminish the overall and/or underlying political and democratic significance and the notable milestone achieved.