Burundi politicians’ opinions diverge on constitution amendment

On 15 March, the Burundian president signed a decree on the mandate, the composition, and the functioning of the National Commission in charge of proposing the amendment to the Burundian Constitution. Some politicians say it is not a propitious time to change it.

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The duration of the commission in charge of proposing the amendment of the Constitution is six months starting from the date of the signing of the decree. The commission is composed of 15 members appointed by the presidential decree. They are selected from ten groups, including a representative of the Presidential office, a representative of the Ministry of Home Affairs, one from the Ministry of Justice, three members of political parties having seats in parliament and independent political actors, three representatives of religious denominations, one from the civil society, one from the national women’s forum, one from the national youth conference and another one from Batwa ethnic group.

Jean de Dieu Mutabazi, Leader of the Union of Democrats for Development in Burundi (RADEBU), says the current constitution resulted from the Arusha Peace Agreement signed in 2000 to end a civil war that lasted for a decade. He claims that RADEBU members agreed that the constitution should be amended and adapted to the current socio-economic and political context.

He says some articles of the Burundian constitution are not in harmony with those of other countries of East African Community (EAC) of which Burundi is a member, hence the need for the change of these articles for an effective integration of Burundi within the EAC. For Mutabazi, the articles related to ethnic quota should be revised. He also says it was the will of the Burundian people to amend the constitution. “This is the recommendation of the inter-Burundi dialogue sessions organized in various communes of country under the auspices of the National Independent Commission for Inter-Burundian Dialogue (CNDI),”Mutabazi says.

It is not an appropriate time to amend the Constitution

Tatien Sibomana, a political actor, says it is inappropriate to change the constitution. According to him the inter-Burundi dialogue led by the facilitator William Benjamin Mkapa will have no effect if the constitution is revised.

Vital Nshimirimana, a civil society activist, says the government has initiated the draft to amend the constitution to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power forever. In 2014, President Nkurunziza attempted to change the constitution to be able to run for a third term contrary to the constitution, but the parliament rejected the bill, says Nshimirimana. According to that civil society activist, the government is taking the advantage of the absence of political figures, especially opposition parties and civil society leaders in exile, to revise the constitution, says Nshimirimana.

According to him, the revision of the constitution risks worsening Burundi crisis caused by president Nkurunziza’s ambition to run for a third term in violation of the constitution and the Arusha Agreement. “This shows the government’s neglect of the current crisis,” Nshimirimana says.

According to him, the major concerns of Burundians are the return of more than 400,000 Burundian refugees, the impunity of crimes against humanity committed in Burundi and the resolution of the current crisis.

That civil society activist believes that the commission supposed to propose the amendment of the constitution will support the decision already taken by the government. He criticizes the fact that this commission is composed of members of the government and political or civil society organizations close to the ruling party CNDD-FDD.

In the last session of the inter-Burundian dialogue held in February in Arusha, the facilitator William Benjamin Mkapa called on Burundi leaders to respect the spirit of the Arusha Agreement and Constitution. “The timing is not right to amend the Burundi constitution,” Mukapa said.