Burundian Opposition Warns Cabinet Changes Risk Renewed Conflict

Burundian opposition leaders accused President Pierre Nkurunziza of undermining a peace accord that ended a 12-year civil war and warned that political unity between the country’s main ethnic groups is fracturing.

Nkurunziza’s reorganization of his cabinet this month violates the peace agreement, “especially power sharing between the two main ethnic groups,” Leonce Ngendakumana, chairman of the opposition Alliance for Democratic Change grouping, or ADC-Ikibiri, said in an interview Feb. 19 in the capital, Bujumbura.

Nkurunziza on Feb. 1 dismissed his deputy Bernard Busokoza of the opposition Uprona party, prompting three members of the Tutsi-led party to quit the coalition government. Nkurunziza’s deputy spokesman Willy Nyamitwe declined to comment by phone and said he would respond later to questions e-mailed yesterday.

Burundi has a power-sharing arrangement that splits political control among the largest ethnic group, the Hutus, currently represented by Nkurunziza’s National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy, or CNDD-FDD, and minority groups including the Tutsi community.

Fighting broke out in the nation of 8 million people in 1993 when the country’s first democratically elected president, a Hutu, was assassinated by members of the then Tutsi-dominated army. In 2000, a United Nations-backed peace process helped end the war that killed 300,000 people.

Burundi is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections next year, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month will provide a “litmus test” for the country’s long-term stability.

Political Change

The opposition ADC-Ikibiri, which boycotted national elections in 2010, is concerned that a proposed constitutional amendment may allow Nkurunziza to run for re-election by extending the current two-term limit, Ngendakumana said.

Members of Uprona, the main partner in the coalition government, rejected Prosper Bazombanza’s selection as the new deputy president last week, said Evariste Ngayimpeda, a leader of a faction of Uprona. Bazombana and three ministers named by Nkurunziza to replace the exiting cabinet members are “unknown” by the party, rendering the government “unconstitutional,” he said.

“Uprona is not part of government,” he said.

Bazombanza supports the proposed constitutional amendment to allow the president to seek a third term, said Robert Besseling, a Johannesburg-based analyst at IHS Country Risk.

“If President Nkurunziza presses ahead with the constitutional amendments, the risk of a military coup will increase in the one-year outlook,” Besseling said in an e-mailed note. “Factional fighting between rival ethnic groups in the military and police is likely to erupt and increase the probability of a civil war.”

‘No Split’

The other faction of Uprona, led by Communications Minister Concilie Nibigira and recognized by the government, is confident there’s “no chance” of an ethnic split, spokesman Francis Ngaruko said. Nibigira has been “imposed” onto Uprona by the CNDD-FDD leadership, said Ngayimpedna.

Burundi’s $2 billion economy, which depends on coffee and tea production, is forecast to grow 5 percent in the “medium term,” making it difficult for the country to reduce the “high” rate of poverty in one the world’s most aid-dependent countries, according to the World Bank. Companies including Heineken NV (HEIA), the world’s third-biggest brewer, and Kenya Commercial Bank Ltd., Kenya’s largest lender, have operations in the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: Desire Nimubona in Bujumbura at dnimubona@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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