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2015 Burundian unrest


2015 Burundian unrest

2015 Burundian protests
Date 26 April 2015 – present
1 year, 2 months, 1 week and 6 days
Location Bujumbura, Musaga, Burundi[1]
  • proposal to allow the country's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, to run for a third term in office
  • 600 protesters arrested
  • Over 100,000[2] have fled the country[3]
  • 13 May attempted military coup
  • Protests continue in Bujumbura
  • Fighting breaks out in Northern Burundi
Parties to the civil conflict
  • NFL
  • Student protesters
  • Opposition protesters
Lead figures
  • at least 77 killed in Bujumbura[5]
  • at least 31 refugees in Tanzania die from cholera epidemic[6]

On 25 April 2015, the ruling political party in Burundi, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), announced that the incumbent President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, would run for a third term in the 2015 presidential election.[7] The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office.

Critics of the president say his actions jeopardise a peace deal that has kept ethnic tensions in check since the Burundian Civil War ended in 2005[8] and that Nkurunziza is not constitutionally permitted to seek a third term in office; his supporters argue that his first 5-year term should not count because he was elected by a parliamentary vote rather than a popular vote.[9]

Widespread demonstrations in the capital, Bujumbura, lasted for over three weeks. During that time the country's highest court approved Nkurunziza's right to run for a third term in office[10] despite the fact that at least one of the court's judges fled the country claiming he had received death threats from members of the government.[11] As a result of the protests the government also shut down the country's internet and telephone network, closed all of the country's universities and government officials publicly referred to the protesters as "terrorists".[12] Since late April tens of thousands of people have fled the country, hundreds of people have been arrested and several protesters and police have been killed while dozens more have been injured.

On 13 May, a coup was announced, led by Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, while President Nkurunziza was in Tanzania attending an emergency conference about the situation in the country.[13] By the next day the coup collapsed and government forces reasserted control.


  • Background 1
    • Constitutionality of a third term 1.1
  • First week of protests 2
  • Second week of protests 3
  • Attempted coup d'état 4
  • Ongoing tensions 5
  • Refugees 6
  • Reactions 7
    • Domestic 7.1
      • Military's response 7.1.1
    • International 7.2
  • References 8


The Burundian Civil War lasted from 1993 to 2005, and an estimated 300,000 people were killed. The conflict ended with a peace process that brought in the 2005 constitution providing guaranteed representation for both Hutu and Tutsi, and parliamentary elections that led to Pierre Nkurunziza, from the Hutu FDD, becoming President.

Since 2005, poverty has remained a major problem and according to the World Bank, over 60% of Burundians do not have enough food, the country's government does not have enough money to fund needed programs and the economy is reliant on coffee exports whose price has fluctuated radically in recent years and made long term financial planning nearly impossible.[14]

Constitutionality of a third term

On 4 May 2015, the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court fled the country following alleged death threats from senior figures in the government.[3] The judge claimed that most of the seven judges on the country's highest court believed it would be unconstitutional for Nkurunziza to be elected again.[3] United States Secretary of State John Kerry also stated 4 May that Nkurunziza's nomination "flies directly in the face of the constitution."[3]

Following the departures of four of the seven judges who sit on Burundi's constitutional court (including the Vice-President), the remaining judges approved Nkurunziza's right to run for a third term in office.[10] Members of the opposition described the court's ruling as "manipulated."[15]

First week of protests

On 25 April 2015, the ruling CNDD-FDD announced that Nkurunziza would run for a third term in the 26 June 2015 presidential election.[7] The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza and those who claimed a third term would be a violation of the country's constitution which says no President can be elected more than twice.

In the capital Bujumbura, protesters cut down trees to blockade roads.[16] On 30 April, after days of protests, President Nkurunziza met with an American diplomat and told him that the protests were illegal.[17]

On 1 May, a grenade attack took place in the capital and killed three people, including two policemen,[18] and human rights organizations said that protesters had been beaten and arrested. On the same day, a speech by President Nkurunziza was broadcast, in which he stated that the protests were illegal, and a committee would be established and submit its findings before the June election, so that "severe sanctions will be taken against those who will be found guilty" of illegal activities.[17]

On 2 May, Security Minister General Gabriel Nizigama said the protests were an "uprising" and that the demonstrators would be regarded as "criminals, terrorists and even enemies of the country".[12]

The International Red Cross says at least six people have been killed in the demonstrations, and Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says that over 400 protesters have been detained, and some have been beaten in prison.[19]

Second week of protests

Protests resumed on 4 May after a two-day suspension called for by protest leaders. Protests began peacefully but at least two protesters were shot and killed by police after stones were thrown at police.[20]

Attempted coup d'état

On 13 May 2015, Major General Godefroid Niyombare declared a coup d'état, announcing on radio that "Nkurunziza is dismissed, his government is dismissed too," while President Nkurunziza was in Tanzania attending an emergency conference about the situation in the country.[21] Niyombare, a former army chief of staff and head of intelligence, announced the coup along with senior officers in the army and police, including a former defense minister. After the announcement, crowds stormed into the streets of the capital in celebration and soldiers were seen guarding the state broadcaster's headquarters.[22]

Nkurunziza attempted to fly back to Burundi, but his plane was reportedly turned back to Tanzania. AFP reported that rebel soldiers had seized control of Bujumbura International Airport. Nevertheless, the head of the armed forces, Prime Niyongabo, declared from the RTNB state radio complex during the night of 13–14 May that the coup attempt had been defeated, and he called on rebel soldiers to surrender. Loyalist forces remained in control of the state radio and presidential palace.[23] Shortly thereafter, AFP reported heavy fighting around the RTNB state radio complex as it was attacked by rebel soldiers.[24] In the wake of the fighting, the station remained in loyalist hands.[25]

Reuters reported that a journalist at the state broadcaster said there was "heavy gunfire" around the station in the capital. Reuters also heard from witnesses that two private radio stations that broadcast Niyombare's announcement had been attacked by men in police uniforms.[26] Radio Publique Africaine was set ablaze.[27] Five soldiers were reported killed in clashes that the government said retook control of the sites.

  1. ^ "france 24 – At least one shot dead in fresh Burundi protests – France 24". France 24. 
  2. ^ a b The Guardian, 19 May 2015,
  3. ^ a b c d e "Top Burundi judge flees as protest death toll continues to rise". DW.DE. 
  4. ^ Yahoo News. Uganda's president starts mediation role in Burundi unrest. "Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met with representatives of the Burundi government and opposition leaders in the nation's capital, Bujumbura, late Tuesday. The talks are being attended by Agathon Rwasa, the most prominent opposition leader in Burundi.". [2]
  5. ^ "Burundi military: 31 suspected rebels killed in fighting". Associated Press By GERARD NZOHABONA. 13 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Al Jazeera English, UN says Burundi refugees cholera epidemic worsening, At least 3,000 cases of cholera have been reported in Tanzania since last week and the outbreak has claimed 31 lives, Azad Essa, 22 May 2015,
  7. ^ a b "Burundi: Crackdown on Protesters – Human Rights Watch". 
  8. ^ "U.S. tells Burundi's president his country risks boiling over". Reuters. 30 Apr 2015. 
  9. ^ "Burundi protest organizers call halt to demonstrations for two days: civil society leader". Reuters. 
  10. ^ a b "Urgent – La cour constitutionnelle se prononce pour une nouvelle candidature de Pierre Nkurunziza". 
  11. ^ "Senior Burundi judge flees rather than approve president's candidacy". The Guardian. 5 May 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "'"Burundi calls opposition protesters 'terrorists. BBC. 2 May 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Associated Press, 13 May 2015, Army General in Burundi Says President Is Ousted,
  14. ^ "Page Not Found". 
  15. ^ "Burundi court clears president to run again, angers protesters". Reuters. 5 May 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c "East Africa Community tries to mend Burundi turmoil". Associated Press. 6 May 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "Burundi president told U.S. diplomat protests against him illegal – spokesman". Reuters UK. 
  18. ^ "Burundi vows crackdown after grenade attack". AlJazeera. 2 May 2015. 
  19. ^ "UN Warns Burundi Could Descend Into Chaos". Voice of America News. 1 May 2015. 
  20. ^ "Burundi protests: Three killed in Bujumbura". BBC News. 
  21. ^ "Army general in Burundi says president is ousted", Associated Press, 13 May 2015.
  22. ^ Njuwa Maina, "Burundi army officer says sacks president, crowds celebrate", Reuters, May 13, 2015.
  23. ^ "Burundi army divided after coup attempt", AFP, 14 May 2015.
  24. ^ "Fighting erupts between Burundi troops", AFP, 14 May 2015.
  25. ^ a b Patrick Nduwimana and Goran Tomasevic, "Burundi president loyalists say coup failed amid sporadic shooting", Reuters, 14 May 2015.
  26. ^ a b c "Burundi army head says coup attempt failed, fighting rages in capital". Reuters. 14 May 2015. 
  27. ^ "Gun clashes rage on in Burundi as radio station attacked". 14 May 2015. 
  28. ^ a b "Coup leader's deputy says Burundi putsch has failed", AFP, 14 May 2015.
  29. ^ "Burundi’s Nkurunziza returns home after coup attempt", France 24, 14 May 2015.
  30. ^ "Burundi coup chief Niyombare says putsch plotters surrender", AFP, 15 May 2015.
  31. ^ Goran Tomasevic, "Burundi says it arrests leader of failed coup", Reuters, 15 May 2015.
  32. ^ Goran Tomasevic, "Burundi's president urges end to protest, coup leader at large", Reuters, 15 May 2015.
  33. ^ "Burundi crackdown after failed coup against Nkurunziza", BBC News, May 16, 2015.
  34. ^ Tom Odula (18 May 2015). "After coup attempt, Burundi President fire 3 ministers". The Washington Times. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  35. ^ a b "Kenya asks Burundi president to postpone election". 
  36. ^ "Burundi delays parliamentary elections after protests". 
  37. ^ "Burundi soldier shot dead by police during protests". BBC News. 
  38. ^ "Heavy gunfire at Burundi protests as poll delayed". Yahoo News. 20 May 2015. 
  39. ^ Goran Tomasevic and Edmund Blair, "Burundi president appeals for ethnic harmony, soldier killed", Reuters, 20 May 2015.
  40. ^ Christian Irambona and Don Melvin, "Opposition suspends talks as Burundi's crisis grows worse", CNN, May 24, 2015.
  41. ^ Clement Manirabarusha and Njuwa Maina, "Burundi opposition figure shot dead in capital: activist", Reuters, 23 May 2015.
  42. ^ Clement Manirabarusha and Goran Tomasevic, "Opposition breaks off Burundi peace talks over killing of opposition leader", Reuters, 25 May 2015.
  43. ^ "Burundi vice president flees, students break into US embassy", AFP, 25 June 2015.
  44. ^ "Burundi Students Enter U.S. Embassy as Political Tensions Escalate". New York Times. 25 Jun 2015. 
  45. ^ "Burundi crisis escalates as opposition boycotts elections". Reuters. 
  46. ^ "Burundi Crisis Escalates as Opposition Boycotts Elections". 26 June 2015. 
  47. ^ "Grenades, voter material torched as Burundi readies for polls", AFP, 27 June 2015.
  48. ^ Clement Manirabarusha, "African Union says Burundi election not free or fair, speaker flees", Reuters, 28 June 2015.
  49. ^ Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala, "Burundi coup general says force only way to oust president", Reuters, 6 July 2015.
  50. ^ a b Clement Manirabarusha, "Gunmen captured, killed by Burundi army in clashes in north: governor", Reuters, 12 July 2015.
  51. ^ Gerard Nzohabona, "Burundi military: 31 suspected rebels killed in fighting", Associated Press, 13 July 2015.
  52. ^ Clement Manirabarusha and Edmund Blair, "Burundi opposition leader calls for unity government to avert conflict", Reuters, 22 July 2015.
  53. ^ Drazen Jorgic, "Gunmen in uniform kill ally of Burundi President Nkurunziza", Reuters, 2 August 2015.
  54. ^ "Burundi presidential aide killed in drive-by shooting", France 24, 2 August 2015.
  55. ^ "AFP correspondent in Burundi detained and beaten", AFP, 3 August 2015.
  56. ^ "Leading Burundi human rights activist shot", France 24, 3 August 2015.
  57. ^ "Former Burundian military chief shot dead in capital", Reuters, 15 August 2015.
  58. ^ "Burundi president says God will defeat rebels as he starts third term", Agence France-Presse, 20 August 2015.
  59. ^ Burundi opposition spokesman Patrice Gahungu killed, BBC News, 8 September 2015
  60. ^ "At least four killed in attack on Burundi army chief", Reuters, 11 September 2015.
  61. ^ "Almost 40,000 flee Burundi amid political crisis". Reuters. 
  62. ^ "UNHCR Regional Update 2 – Burundi Situation, 18 May 2015". ReliefWeb. 
  63. ^ "Burundi refugees say there is no turning back as fears grow of reprisals at home". the Guardian. 
  64. ^ "Burundi Journalists Protest Closing of Radio Station". Voice of America. 3 May 2015. 
  65. ^ "Government coup against news media". Reporters Without Borders. 30 Apr 2015. 
  66. ^ "Burundian authorities crack down on press ahead of elections". Committee to Protect Journalists. 29 Apr 2015. 
  67. ^ "UN Warns Burundi Could Descend Into Chaos". VOA. 
  68. ^ "Top Burundi judge flees country – Africa – Daily Nation". 5 May 2015. 
  69. ^ "Man burned alive in Burundi protest against presidential bid". Reuters. 
  70. ^ New York Times, Political Unrest Pushes Burundi Closer to Economic Collapse, By ISMA’IL KUSHKUSH, MAY 22, 2015,
  71. ^ "EAC concerned with Burundi situation". 2 May 2015. 
  72. ^ "United Nations News Centre". UN News Service Section. 28 April 2015. 
  73. ^ Foreign Affairs Ministry. "Statement by Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Rwanda expresses serious concern over deteriorating situation in Burundi". The New Times Rwanda. 


  • African Union: On 7 May, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, called on the government to postpone the elections due to the ongoing instability.[69]
  • On May 21 Belgium's Foreign Ministry stated that "A third presidential term would stain at the highest level the legitimacy of the Burundi executive, and would make the completion of the bilateral program impossible."[70]
  • Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya, asked for the presidential election to be delayed.[35]
  • The East African Community, made up of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, have expressed concern at people seeking refuge in neighboring countries out of fear of violence.[71] Ministers from Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda then travelled to the country for talks to try to end the crisis.[16]
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called "on the Burundian authorities to conduct a prompt investigation into the deaths that occurred during the recent demonstrations so that those responsible are held accountable."[72] The UN has facilitated talks between the government and opposition and civil society groups.[16]
  • On 4 May the Government of Rwanda issued a statement saying, "Rwanda urges the Government of Burundi to take immediate necessary steps to ensure the protection of its population, end the worsening humanitarian situation and restore peace."[73]
  • On 19 May South Africa called on Burundi to indefinitely postpone the county's planned elections until stability returned.[2]
  • On 4 May John Kerry said the U.S. was "deeply concerned" about the situation.[3]


On 2 May the Defence Minister, General Pontien Gaciyubwenge, said that the army was neutral and called for an end to attacks on citizens' rights. On 3 May the army's chief of staff General Prime Niyongabo stated it "remains and will remain a republican and loyalist army that is respectful of the laws and rules of Burundi and of those who govern it".[68]

Military's response

The government has shut down Radio Publique Africaine and blocked instant messaging services and social media sites it says are used to co-ordinate protests.[64] Reporters Without Borders condemned the restrictions on press and citizen communication.[65][66] All universities were closed.[67]



By 22 May a cholera epidemic had broken out amongst refugees in Tanzania and affected over 3,000 people. At least 31 refugees in Tanzania had died from the disease and between 3–500 new cases were being found every day.[6]

By 6 May the United Nations reported that 40,000 people had fled to seek safety in neighbouring Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.[61] By 13 May at least an additional 10,000 people had fled.[13] On 14 May the UN said that over 70,000 people had fled the country.[26] On 18 May 2015 the figure had been revised up to 112,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.[62][63]


Gunmen attempted to kill General Prime Niyongabo, the army chief of staff, in an ambush in Bujumbura on 11 September 2015. Several people were reportedly killed, but Niyongabo survived the attack.[60]

Patrice Gahungu, spokesman for the Union for Peace and Development, a party opposed to Nkurunziza, was killed by gunmen on September 8.[59]

Nkurunziza was sworn in for his third term a few days early, on 20 August 2015. The ceremony was not announced until the same day it was held. Speaking on the occasion, he described his re-election as "a victory of all Burundians". He vowed that if his enemies continued to pursue violence, they would be beaten with the aid of God and "scattered like flour thrown into the air".[58]

On 15 August, Jean Bikomagu, a leader of the military during the Civil War, was assassinated in Bujumbura, heightening fears of another civil war developing.[57]

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a prominent human rights activist and opponent of Nkurunziza, was shot in Bujumbura on 3 August and "very badly wounded".[56]

[55] correspondent Esdras Ndikumana, was arrested and allegedly beaten. He was released after two hours and was treated at a hospital for his injuries.Agence France-Presse A reporter who went to the location of the attack, [54] General

Shortly after the election was held on 21 July, without the participation of the opposition, main opposition leader Agathon Rwasa proposed the formation of a national unity government, while warning of the potential for more violence and armed rebellion against Nkurunziza. As conditions for participating in such a government, Rwasa said that Nkurunziza's third term would need to be greatly truncated to no more than a year and new elections would have to be held, although he admitted that he doubted Nkurunziza would accept those conditions. He also urged those hoping to oust Nkurunziza through violence to instead focus on dialogue. The government welcomed the idea of forming a national unity government, but rejected the notion of truncating Nkurunziza's new term.[52]

Speaking to a Kenyan television station on 6 July, one of the coup leaders, General Leonard Ngendakumana, called for armed rebellion against Nkurunziza. He said that his group was responsible for the grenade attacks and said that "our intent is to intensify".[49] Fighting was reported in northern Burundi on 10–11 July.[50] The military said on 13 July that 31 rebels had been killed and 170 had been captured in those battles; it said that six of its own soldiers had also been wounded. The Burundian government stated that the rebels had crossed into northern Burundi through the Nyungwe Forest from Rwanda but the Rwandan government denied this.[51] Ngendakumana said that the rebels were from his group.[50]

Pie Ntavyohanyuma, the President of the National Assembly, fled to Belgium on 28 June 2015, citing the unrest and his opposition to Nkurunziza's third term bid. He said that when he told Nkurunziza that he should not run, "his answer was to threaten me, to humiliate me."[48]

Opposition groups announced on 26 June that they would boycott the election.[45][46] On 27 June, "a group of unidentified young people" set fire to a building in Ntega district where ballot boxes and voting booths were being kept, destroying some of them. There were also two grenade attacks in Bujumbura, but there were no injuries.[47]

On 25 June 2015, Second Vice-President Gervais Rufyikiri, a member of the CNDD-FDD, left the country and went into exile in Belgium, declaring that Nkurunziza's candidacy was unconstitutional and that, by running, Nkurunziza was putting his own interests ahead of the nation's interests. He said that Nkurunziza was "deaf" to ignore all the voices calling on him not to run. The government welcomed Rufyikiri's departure and alleged that he was involved in the failed coup attempt.[43] Meanwhile, Burundian students crawled under the gates of the US embassy parking lot, which is diplomatically protected.[44]

Zedi Feruzi, the leader of a small opposition party, the Union for Peace and Development, was shot and killed along with his bodyguard in Bujumbura on 23 May 2015.[41] Opposition parties broke off negotiations with the government after his death.[42]

Nkurunziza decided to delay the parliamentary election, but not the presidential election, by 10 days after a recommendation by the election commission.[36] One soldier was reportedly killed by police gunfire on 20 May.[37][38] Also on 20 May, Nkurunziza spoke about the dangers of ethnically-based unrest and violence, recalling the dark days of the civil war and warning against a return to the "tensions of ethnic division".[39] On May 23, three people were killed and 21 wounded when grenades were thrown in a market in Bujumbura.[40]

After the attempted coup, heavily armed soldiers were deployed in Bujumbura.[35]

Ongoing tensions

On 18 May President Nkurunziza dismissed three ministers from his cabinet: Minister of National Defence Pontien Gaciyubwenge, Foreign Minister Laurent Kavakure and Trade Minister Marie-Rose Nizigiyimana.[34]

On 16 May, eighteen people including former defence minister General Cyrille Ndayirukiye and police commissioners Zenon Ndabaneze and Hermenegilde Nimenya, appeared in court. Relatives claim that they had been beaten while in custody.[33]

Early on 15 May, Niyombare said that he and the other coup leaders had decided to surrender to government forces.[30] Meanwhile, Nkurunziza returned to Bujumbura.[31] Speaking on state radio later in the day, he said that there was "peace in the whole country" and vowed that anyone trying to stir up unrest would fail. The government also disclosed that Niyombare was still at large, contradicting an earlier statement that he had been captured.[32]

In the hours that followed the failed attacks on the state broadcaster, the coup appeared to begin collapsing.[28] Later in the day on 14 May, Nkurunziza announced that he had returned to Burundi, although his specific location was not given for security reasons. He congratulated "the army and the police for their patriotism" and "above all the Burundian people for their patience".[29] One of the coup leaders, General Cyrille Ndayirukiye, said that "our movement has failed" due to "overpowering military determination to support the system in power". He also suggested that soldiers backing the coup would not continue fighting, saying the coup leaders "don't want to be responsible for leading those who have followed us to their deaths."[28]


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