This is the collaborative web space for the Burundi IT Election Warning Project, led by The African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams (http://aglifpt.org/).
It was set up to support the initiation and specification of the project proposal, and in the future the coordination of efforts around it.
Here you can find:
The upcoming Burundian elections in 2010 will be a crucial test of the state of social and political relations in Burundi and will determine whether the fledging peace process will be consolidated or whether all progress achieved to date simply dissolves. Many Burundians hold out hope that the ongoing peace process will put an end to the more than 300,000 deaths that have torn communities apart along “ethnic” lines, traumatized citizens on all sides, and made Burundi one of the materially poorest countries in the world.
The 2010 elections include local elections in June, Parliamentary (National Assembly and Senate) in July, and indirect election of the President (by the Parliament) in August. Among the issues affecting the process are the ceasefire signed with the last active militia, the Palipehutu-FNL, and their political integration; the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of ex-combattants; the instability created by rising food prices, and the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Tanzania. But the challenges are also rooted in the post-independence history of elections in which manipulation of “ethnic” differences between Hutu and Tutsi for political purposes has created deep tensions and led to violence.
While some efforts have focused on working with political elites and party leaders to work for a fair and peaceful election, but such high-level gambles are also a risky strategy for achieving peace. This was demonstrated in 1961 and 1993, where a candidate with broad and inter-group support was assassinated, which eventually led to mass violence. An alternative strategy is to address violence on the level at which it is carried out, building trust and relationships at the grassroots level that would weather possible calls for violence coming from political elites. Such relationships have prevented violence in communities in the past, as is evident from the regional variation in levels of violence as well as from the stories of the prevention of violence by local leaders and citizens who refuse to take part and encourage others to do similarly.
Such interventions are only possible, however, where people have been able to reconcile “ethnic” differences and healed the trauma in their hearts that is the basis of Hutu-Tutsi animosities. Otherwise, the “ethnic” division stirred up for political gain in an election falls on receptive ears and ready hands, motivated by frustration and anger or fear.
Some in Burundi also associate their trauma with elections themselves, with the idea of casting a ballot associated with the traumatic violence that followed the 1993 election. For this reason some refuse to vote and many have symptoms of trauma provoked by hearing political discussions on the radio or in their community, casting a ballot, or other things associated with elections. These traumatic symptoms need to be addressed to so that elections can positively impact communities and all can take part, and also so that people can heal from trauma in the midst of divisive times when politicians are playing on peoples’ fear and ethnic identities.
Of course, elections need not be viewed as only a source of trouble, and they have the potential to help deliver good governance and peace to Burundi. To do so, however, the roots of a participatory, informed, and liberal democracy must be more deeply embedded. As many have argued, the act of voting itself is not enough to ensure that democracy promises anything more than a destabilizing census on ethnic affiliations. For elections to help create a stable governance that is supported by popular will, citizens need to be involved in addressing ethnic-based political appeals, observing the entire election process, from vote-counting to media content to the use of police power, and acting as community leaders to demand effective response to community problems. This grassroots civic engagement is central to the long-term viability of democracy and good governance, and if it is rooted in joint participation of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, it will be a strong foundation on which to prevent future violence.
The challenges to the creation of such non-ethnic civic groups include overcoming significant mistrust between identity groups rooted in traumatic experiences of past violence, a tendency towards deference towards political and other leaders, as well as a lack of knowledge about democratic practices.