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20180523 – Burundi Constitutional Referendum Result

Referendum outcome

Burundi has voted 73% in favour of constitutional changes proposed in a referendum on 17 May 2018, these changes will now allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for another two terms in office and extend his rule until 2034.  The Burundi Electoral Commission reported that voter turnout was at 96%, however, opposition groups and the international community have deemed the result as illegitimate due to voter intimidation.  The Assaye Risk reports “20180503 – Burundi Constitutional Referendum” and “20180511-Burundi Constitutional Referendum – Situation Update” provide further background on the referendum.

Constitutional changes

The referendum result has brought in the following constitutional amendments:

  • Presidential terms have been extended from five to seven years.
  • Presidents can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. Presidential service prior to the referendum does not count, thus President Nkurunziza is eligible for two more terms in office.
  • Ethnic quotas in public institutions (politics: 60% Hutu, 40% Tutsi, and military: 50% Hutu, 50% Tutsi) have been removed.
  • A new post of Prime Minister has been created; it is yet to be announced who this will be.
  • The number of Vice Presidents has been cut from two to one; it is yet to be announced which Vice President will be removed.

It is almost certain that President Nkurunziza will run for presidential elections in 2020 and 2027.  Considering his current control over government and state institutions coupled with the lack of international appetite to interfere, it is highly likely that he will win these elections and remain in power until 2034.

The ethnic quotas were established under the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and were the foundation for ending ethnic conflict between Rwanda and Burundi.  As a Hutu, the removal of ethnic quotas probably signals President Nkurunziza’s intent to increase Hutu influence in government to further consolidate his power.  Before the referendum, the government had already began relocating Tutsi officers to lower positions in the military and it is expected that there will be a reshuffle of politicians in the government within the next few months.  Given the history of ethnic violence in Burundi this could potentially increase the likelihood of violence in the country.

Legitimacy of the referendum

Despite the high voter turnout of 96%, opposition politicians have denounced the result as illegitimate because of the violence used to intimidate voters.  The US State Department has corroborated reports of violence and intimidation tactics to coerce the population into voting for constitutional changes.  According to Human Rights Watch, this violence included the murder of fifteen people during the two weeks of campaigning but the ban on certain foreign media outlets has made it difficult to establish the scale of government violence which is likely to be much higher than currently reported.

Regional response

The African Union (AU) remains divided over how to deal with the possibility of President Nkurunziza remaining in power until 2034 and despite unrest leading up to the referendum had outlined no plans for military intervention if the security situation began to deteriorate in Burundi.  However, given the history of ethnic violence involving Rwanda and Burundi, coupled with the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, who is a Tutsi and currently sitting as AU Chairman, there is a possibility that he could petition for intervention should Hutu/Tutsi violence manifest itself in Burundi.

Predictive assessment 

  • Over the coming weeks it is likely that more reports of violence which occurred during the referendum campaign will begin to surface in the media. These will probably lead to condemnation by international organisations and could result in cuts to direct and indirect funding for the country.
  • While President Nkurunziza maintains control of national security forces, the operating environment is likely to remain permissive. However, any cuts in international funding could undermine delivery of development projects which might have consequences for business.
  • President Nkurunziza’s reduction of Tutsi influence in the military prior to the referendum was probably intended to prevent potential opposition against the government. For the same reasons, it is assessed that the influence of Tutsi politicians in government will also be reduced in the coming months.  Depending on the manner of these reshuffles, it could have the inverse effect and ignite ethnic Hutu/Tutsi violence in the country.
  • The AU is highly unlikely to interfere with the internal affairs of a member state. Only in the event of widespread ethnic violence is there assessed to be any possibility of military intervention in the country by the AU or UN. 

Assaye Risk

Assaye Risk’s research and analysis team advises clients on significant changes in operating environments and provides solutions for managing risks.  For further information about our risk management services in Burundi contact the research and analysis team on +44 (0) 20 7042 5110 or email info@assayerisk.com.



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