Exclusive interview/Agathon Rwasa: ’’CNL ultimate goal is to gain power”

Political intolerance, the culture of impunity, the speeches of appeasement delivered by various authorities , the return of refugees, coalitions during the elections, the call for the boycott by opposition coalition in exile CFOR, etc… Agathon Rwasa, CNL chairman answers current questions without officialese .

Is CNL a constant thorn in CNDD-FDD side?

We are blocked by the administrative authorities from the ruling party. We are victims of the current situations. We receive severe beating, we suffer acts of vandalism, assault and battery. We are the victims. With 15 years in power, we live in misery; our freedoms are violated and we are subjected to verbal intolerance and violence.

Governors of provinces consider CNL members as troublemakers…

The troublemakers, we know them. The administrative authorities are rather lost since they fail to fulfill their responsibility; they want to serve a political party. Note that only two out of 18 provincial governors are not affiliated to the ruling party CNDD-FDD with almost 120 communes’ administrators. You understand that they don`t assume their responsibilities when they call us troublemakers. They try to justify themselves by blaming us for mistakes they commit. Unfortunately, they therefore entrench the culture of impunity.

Do you blame the administrators for promoting impunity?

You remember that in June in Nyabiraba commune of Bujumbura province, our office was set on fire. The day before the crime was committed, CNL members fearing the worst were organized to guard that CNL office. The police and the administration arrested them and the fire erupted after their arrest. The trial rather condemned victims who had been arrested before committing the offense. And we hear the spokespersons for the police and the Ministry of the Interior claiming there are CNL members who destroy their party’s offices to charge members of the ruling party. Following this judicial scandal, more than 30 CNL offices were vandalized and destroyed. People are injured, there is one dead in Muyinga, and other victims are arrested. The list is long. All this is to be imputed to whom? to CNL or the administration and the justice that do not punish the troublemakers? Who encourages violence? Unfortunately, instead of protecting any citizen, they are biased; they stand on the side of the ruling CNDD-FDD and fail in their duties.

The administration and political parties admitted last month that misdemeanors have been committed and decided to put an end to political violence. A month later, do you notice a lull in fighting?

We must recognize that administrative authorities created a legal loophole since just after that meeting, they instead implemented harsh measures to prevent us from exercising citizenship rights. An example: an administrator who recommends to establish our office one kilometer from CNDD-FDD one. Finally, Burundi would count how many kilometers in terms of area, given that most areas do not have a radius of one kilometer. How to have a kilometer between two offices in a locality counting only 20 houses? It’s ridiculous.

Is this a widespread problem?

We warmly thank the administrators who comply with the law; we also thank those who persecute us. They are unknowingly advertising us. We cannot however encourage them to continue. I have seen all the regimes since independence. They all aspired to stay in power as long as possible. But they fell. It should serve as a lesson. The most zealous are the most disappointed when change happens.

The government and ruling party high authorities nevertheless deliver many speeches to release the tension?

We need concrete action as well as speeches by repressing any aggressive attitude without taking into account the political affiliation. Some of CNL members are still injured and subjected to fabrications? On Monday, 30 September, in Mparamirundi area in Busiga commune, people were beaten while carrying sand to build the house that would serve as our office. Some are imprisoned others are admitted to hospital. I believe they should ensure if the message of tolerance is respected, and punish the offenders.

Some political parties demand the suspension of CNL party while others ask for the control of its finances, pure jealousy?

It’s their weakness, they can’t change. They cannot convince the population. They use political leverage to look for personal interests. If they have nothing to say they can keep silent. If they have any, let them express it. We carry out our political activities thanks to the contributions paid by our members. If a political party whose members are only its president and its secretary, how does it compare itself to a party that has immense popularity? People have to be realistic. The 35 approved political parties are all based in Bujumbura and should normally have their contact address there. How many parties have offices upcountry? You hardly find the flag of UPRONA, FRODEBU, CNDD-FDD and CNL … Burundi does not need a myriad of political parties to advance, it needs personalities who can face the current challenges and propose solutions.

Do you envisage a coalition for the upcoming elections?

A coalition yes, but we must also examine our working conditions. A coalition of several political parties is entitled to only one proxy in a polling station. The party may be lost in this myriad of civil society associations serving CNDD-FDD. A coalition would be disastrous for its members since cheating is done more in polling stations. And there must be several people for constant surveillance.

What would be beneficial in this case?

I would rather encourage political parties and independents to get registered at least to participate in communal elections to maximize the number of proxies in polling stations to ensure compliance with the popular verdict. The coalition would be perfect for the presidential elections. The logic would be for those who support change to come together and appoint a single presidential candidate instead of dispersing votes.

Politicians in exile gathered in CFOR coalition call for a boycott of elections saying they will not be free, democratic and peaceful…

Maybe they find it the best. But we must admit that it is still unrealistic. When we know that in politics, everything is conquered by the ballot boxes. In other words, if they maintain the status quo believing to continue until further notice, I wonder until when? We, at least, say we wait patiently until May 2020. They argue by mentioning in particular the violence made against CNL members. I agree with that. But if we boycott, we facilitate the government to stay in power. On the other hand, we must continue to suffer and fight for change.

What is your reaction to the return of refugees?

People criticize me because I plead for the return of refugees. It’s simply because I have experienced exile. It is bitter; degrading and without rights. On the other hand, I have always encouraged Burundian authorities to implement measures to reassure the refugees to return. Burundians in exile should make proposals for necessary conditions to be implemented for their repatriation.

The Human Rights Council pleads for the cooperation with Burundi government to allow members of UN Commission of Inquiry to come to its territory. What do you think about it?

If the government wants to prove that their reports are false and biased, it could let them come to see for themselves that they are “driveling” since Gitega describes their reports as politically motivated. At that moment, the members of the Commission of Inquiry would have no more doubt. The best way to deny is to let members of these committees make their findings.

What is your appeal to CNL members?

I appeal to them for the restraint, respect for others, respect for the law and patience. Victory is achieved through patience. We do not have to be sickened by what happens to us. It’s sad, but we must be able to stand it and not show signs of nervousness. Stay calm and perfectly lucid. After all, when we know our ultimate destination and when we are sure that we will achieve it, we should resist all provocations and we advance. This does not work only for CNL members who want to win, but also to all Burundians who aspire to change. We have to go slowly towards the goal.

So, is your goal to become president?

The ultimate goal of CNL party is to gain power. We cannot carry out the social projects that we propose to Burundians if we do not get power. And if people propose Agathon Rwasa as president, why should I refuse it? In Latine we say ‘Vox populi vox Dei,’ the voice of the people is the voice of God.

Interviewed by Agnès Ndirubusa and translated by

Lorraine Josiane Manishatse