Friday, April 8, 2016

Power-sharing in Burundi

No one likes to share, but some are worse at it than others.

The majority Hutus and minority Tutsis in Burundi have been in conflict for decades. The Tutsis, despite only consisting of 13 per cent of the population compared to the Hutus making up 86 per cent, had historically been in power. The Hutus, however, won the first-ever multi-ethnic, multi-party elections in 1993 with an overwhelming majority. Their new president, Melchior Ndadaye, was sworn in, but assassinated by Tutsis extremists just four months later.

This event was one in a long series of attempted coups, assassinations, and mass killings that had had Burundi at nearing its boiling point for years. It officially began what would be their 12-year civil war.

The international community, motivated by a humanitarian aim to stop the killing, and a political aim to curb the possibility of conflict further affecting the region, stepped in to help. The primary goal of the United Nations, the African Union, and many other countries, was to get the warring factions to come to a power-sharing agreement, but each attempt failed. Despite that Burundi is an ideal candidate for a power-sharing system, but the pillars of Consociational Theory did not apply during the war, and do not apply now.

In order for Consociational Theory, a form of power-sharing, to work, according to its creator Arend Lijphart, there must be grand coalition, segmental autonomy, minority representation or parity, and minority veto. A coalition was constitutionalized, but to segment the population and governance would cause a multitude of other issues. Minority representation and veto were discussed and, to a certain extent, implemented, but only at the level of official appointments, and not to the point of how it would trickle down to the population. For example, an agreed-upon power-sharing system was that the ratio of ministers must be 60 per cent Hutu and 40 per cent Tutsi, and 30 per cent must be women; Ministers of National Defense and National Police must both be ethnically different. However, it was never specified how this would benefit the population.

Both sides of the war lived in fear that if they lost power, the opposing side would kill them en masse, which, to be fair, was attempted on several occasions by both Hutus and Tutsis. There was no credible commitment on either side until Nelson Mandela took over the Arusha Peace Agreement talks in 1999. The support and enforcement of South Africa encouraged dialogue, but it still took a year for an agreement to be reached, and another five for it to be implemented.

Continued mass killings and the emergence of spoilers and veto players made an agreement next to impossible. The emphasis of the international community on stemming the killing by imposing sanctions could have helped, because the lack of trust on all sides of the bargaining table significantly delayed an agreement, and increased reticence to fully commit.

The implementation of a peace and power-sharing agreement gave Burundi 10 years of relative peace, but fighting has started up again over politics and who should have the presidency.

By: Spencer Van Dyk

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