Johannesburg - African leaders meeting for the African Union (AU) summit here have implicitly rejected Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to hold presidential elections on July 15 – in which he plans to run again. The leaders threw open the date of the elections to negotiations between the government, opposition and other parties.
The AU’s Peace and Security Council, meeting here at heads of state level, decided that the AU would only send election observers to the Burundi elections “if conditions for the organisation of free, fair, transparent and credible elections, in accordance with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, are met”.
Violent street protests and an aborted military coup erupted in Burundi after Nkurunziza announced in April that he would seek a third term as president, despite two-term limits in the country’s constitution and in the Arusha agreement which established the framework for democracy in Burundi after the long civil war which ended in elections in 2005.
After intervention by the AU and the East African Community (EAC), Nkurunziza agreed to postpone the presidential elections from June 26 and to set a new date in negotiations with the opposition and civil society. Then last week he abruptly announced elections would take place on July 15.
But the AU Peace and Security Council implicitly overrode this date in its communiqué at the summit when it said “the date of the election shall be set by consensus between the Burundian parties”. This would also take into account EAC decisions calling for the postponement of the elections and the results of a technical assessment to be undertaken by the UN.
The consensus would be the outcome of a dialogue between all the Burundian parties to create the conditions for acceptable elections. This should start within one week under the facilitation of the AU, the UN, the EAC and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region ( ICGLR), supported by the international community.
Opposition parties in Burundi have reportedly welcomed the decision that they will have to agree to a new date for elections. Nkurunziza is not attending the AU summit so his response is not clear.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui made clear on Monday that creating the conditions for free, fair, transparent and credible elections which the AU would be prepared to observe would also include agreement on whether Nkurunziza should be a candidate for the elections.
The conditions should emerge from the all-parties dialogue, he said at a press conference. The dialogue agenda would include human rights, the free movement of people, free expression, including for media, security, the delay of elections “and indeed the candidature of the president for a new term”.
“Everything should be in the dialogue I hope the Burundians will find a way to avoid the crisis, if the conditions are met.”
The AU Peace and Security Council also decided on the immediate deployment of AU human rights observers and other civilian personnel to Burundi as well as the deployment of AU military experts to verify the process of disarming militias and other armed groups.
AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has very clearly stated previously that Nkurunziza should not run for a third term but the AU at this summit has been less explicit.
Yet US assistant secretary of state for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield praised the AU for being “extraordinarily strong in its efforts to press Nkurunzizi and other countries on the continent on the question of third term…the chairperson has made a strong statement that indicates her position and the position of the AU that Nkurunziza should not be seeking a third term and expressing concern about the deteriorating security situation in the country. “
Thomas-Greenfield said the US had also expressed its disagreement to Nkurunziza and other leaders seeking to amend their constitutions to seek third terms.”We have encouraged them not to do that.”
She noted at a press briefing on the sidelines of the summit that a recent poll had showed that the people of 34 African countries had indicated that they wanted presidential term limits and changes of power.