50 profs to Secretary Kerry: Support Peace & Democracy in Burundi

Today I joined more than 50 of my African studies colleagues from the US, Europe, and Africa on a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry about the crisis in Burundi. We collectively “urge the US government to apply all diplomatic and economic pressure to the Burundian government to swiftly and peacefully resolve the crisis.”

Between 1962 and 1993, an estimated quarter of a million people died during a series of conflicts. (See for example, Filip Reyntjens, “Constitution-Making in Situations of Extreme Crisis: The Case of Rwanda and Burundi,” in Journal of African Law, 1996.) The origins of the present crisis reside with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plans to run for a third term in office, in violation of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement that ended a violent civil war. There are a number of excellent articles about the Agreement and its power-sharing mechanisms, including Peter Uvin, “Ethnicity and Power in Burundi and Rwanda,” in Comparative Politics (1999), and “The Internal Dynamics of Power-sharing in Africa,” by Nic Cheeseman, in Democratization (2011).

There has been a rise in violence since a failed coup attempt in Bujumbura on May 13, and the country is at risk of slipping back into larger conflict. The president equated civilian protestors with coup supporters, whom he recently labeled “insurgents.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, independent national media have been destroyed or shut down. As the professors’ letter points out, “This has raised fears among the population of political violence remaining unreported, especially in the interior of the country. Many civil society leaders, media figures, and those former government officials who have spoken out against the third term have either gone into hiding or have fled Burundi due to ongoing threats.”

UNHCR map of refugee flows

UNHCR map of refugee flows

Equally worrisome, says the letter, is that the protest movement itself might radicalize in response to the government repression. The Imbonerakure, the youth movement of the ruling party, have escalated a campaign of intimidation, threatening to anybody who demonstrates against the third term, according to reports from the field. At least 110,000 people have fled Burundi to find refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Not only does this increase the risk of regional instability, it also undermines the ethnic quota system integrated in to the Arusha Accord that has provided the basis for power-sharing. Click here to read the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ strategy.


The plan of action endorsed by the signatories of the letter calls for the US to:

  • continue its firm advocacy against President Nkurunziza’s third term;
  • support the postponement of elections until they can be free and fair;
  • suspend aid to any Burundian military units in violation of the Leahy Law
  • consider appointing a Special Envoy, or ensuring the final appointment of the vacant Great Lakes Envoy position, to work with all parties to mediate a de-escalation of violence and maintenance of the Arusha Accords;
  • consider targeted sanctions against the Burundian government to supplement the political pressure;
  • support and encourage the deployment of the East African Standby Force (EASF) or another body willing to prevent or contain the eruption of mass killings if necessary.

For general background on the crisis, read the International Crisis Group’s May 29 report, “Peace Sacrificed?

The professors hope to meet with Secretary Kerry in the coming weeks to share their concerns and provide updates.  The complete list as of June 16 is below.

Cara E. Jones, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College
Katrin Wittig, PhD candidate in Political Science, University of Montreal
Beth Elise Whitaker, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Jessica Piombo, Associate Professor, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School
Kris Inman, Research Faculty, National Intelligence University
Alies Rijper, PhD candidate in International Affairs, Durham University
Stephanie Schwartz, PhD candidate in Political Science, Columbia University
Laura Seay, Assistant Professor of Government, Colby College
Rachel L. Ellett, Associate Professor of Political Science and Mouat Junior Professor of International Studies, Beloit College
Ryan Sheely, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University
Rachel Strohm, PhD student in Political Science, University of California at Berkeley
Amy E. Harth, PhD student in Interdisciplinary Studies, Union Institute & University
Dominika Koter, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colgate University
Jennifer Brass, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Indiana University
Cameron Wimpy, Researcher, Fors Marsh Group
Lyn S. Graybill, Independent Scholar
Nic Cheeseman, Associate Professor in African Politics, Oxford University
John Clark, Professor of International Relations, Florida International University
Amy Poteete, Associate Professor of Political Science, Concordia University
Adrienne LeBas, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, American University
Anne Pitcher, Professor of African Studies and Political Science, University of Michigan
Warigia Bowman, Assistant Professor, Clinton School of Public Service, University of Arkansas
Justin Schon, PhD Candidate in Political Science, Indiana University Bloomington
James R. Scarritt, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado
Lahra Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science, Georgetown University
Kim Yi Dionne, Five College Assistant Professor of Government, Smith College
Nelson Kasfir, Professor Emeritus of Government, Dartmouth College
David Throup, Professorial Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, and Senior Associate, Africa Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Zoe Marks, Director of the MSc in African Studies Program and Co-Director of the Global Development Academy, University of Edinburgh
Robert Mortimer, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Haverford College
Fredline M’Cormack-Hale, Assistant Professor, School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University
Grant Gordon, PhD candidate in Political Science, Columbia University
Stephen Orvis, Associate Dean of Students for Academics and Professor of Government, Hamilton College
Carl LeVan, Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University
Abangma James Arrey, Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Buea (Cameroon)
Lisa Ann Richey, Professor of International Development Studies, Roskilde University
Fodei J. Batty, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Quinnipiac University
Majuta Mamogale, PhD candidate, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand
Timothy Longman, African Studies Center Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Boston University
Milli Lake, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University
Ashley Leinweber, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Missouri State University
Barbara Lewis, Professor Emerita of Political Sciences, Rutgers University- New Brunswick
Megan Hershey, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Whitworth University
Hannah Britton, Associate Professor of Political Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas
Karen Ferree, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California at San Diego
Keisha Haywood, Program Coordinator, Institute for Developing Nations, Emory University
Jacqueline Klopp, Associate Research Scholar, Center for Sustainable Urban Development, Columbia University
Henry Kam Kah, Faculty Member, Department of History, University of Buea (Cameroon)
Guy Grossman, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Mamoudou Gazibo, Chair of the African Politics Conference Group and Professor of Political Science, University of Montreal
John Heilbrunn, Associate Professor of International Studies, The Colorado School of Mines
Michael Byron Nelson, Assistant Professor of Government, Wesleyan University
Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Peter E. Haas Faculty Co-Director of the Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University
Midjèou T. Beranger Avohoueme, Consultant for the World Bank (Benin)
Lydia Apori Nkansah, Head of Department of Commercial Law, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana)
Arka Abota, Lecturer, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia)
Devra C. Moehler, Assistant Professor, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Bruce A. Magnusson, Chair of Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Politics, Whitman College

2 thoughts on “50 profs to Secretary Kerry: Support Peace & Democracy in Burundi

  1. Vanmechelen

    At least 110,000 people have fled Burundi to find refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
    This is far from the reality, gentlemans. Thousends of Burundians fled from Burundi to the US, Canada, Europe aswel as Kenya or South Africa. And this is real reality !!

  2. Patrick

    The political situation in Burundi is more complexe than one would think. It is true that the current crisis was sparked by the nomination of President Nkurunziza as a candidate for the CNDD-FDD for upcoming elections.This was a political miscalculation given the volatile political environment Burundi is in and the popular discontent, especially among the youth, victim of unemployment and lack of perspective. The change at the top would have given more hope into the future. This did not happen. At the same time, the opposition has remained divided and till now does not offer any viable alternative. This explains the prominent role played by CSO and the media and subsequently the violent reaction from Burundi authorities. However, a lot of information about the planned mass killings and even the probability of genocide has no real evidence.

    The reality is that the political opposition has been severely weakened and found itself in a position where it cannot stand against the ruling party. Some opposition figures and leaders of several CSO are talking about genocide in order to prompt a military intervention from outside so that it would help in removing the CNDD-FDD from power. This is too risky. According to me, a military intervention would cause more harm than repair. The Libya or Syria scenarii cannot be excluded in case of such intervention.

    What is needed today, is to put more efforts in creating a truely independent electoral commission that will ensure the process is transparent and fair as well as the creation of an environment that allow all political actors to run their campaigns freely.The opposition should be encouraged to present a unique front. Other measures will bring little help in the current situation.
    The fear of escalation is real but so far, as prof. Guichaoua mentionned, the population has demonstrated an unparalleled determination to avoid violence against all odds. The Burundi population demonstrated a sense of maturity which has kept the country relatively calm. For how long this will remain the case? I cannot guess…But I truely and honestly think that there is no planned genocide in Burundi. Violence is possible and it can be prompted by both parties: those with power today or the opposition.They are both failing the Burundian population which just want peace and bread.

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