While the dust has settled on the coup that wasn’t, opposition leaders here in Burundi are wondering if it’s just a matter of time before the other shoe falls.
FRODEBU spokesman Pancrace Cimbaye, speaking to AFP, said, “We think the government is trying to create a chaotic situation, enabling it to sweep aside all the politicians in its way.”
MSD’s Alexis Sinduhije, who I spoke to on Sunday, and who has recently been accused by the government of plotting a rebellion in the Rubuvu National Park (an accusation that was dismantled at length in the local newspaper, Iwacu), said simply, “We are waiting.”
AFP reported on Sunday that Friday night’s security sweep netted 16 conspirators who have been charged with plotting to “destabilize” the country. The arrests took place with great fanfare on a public beach here in Bujumbura, played out in front of cameras for the state-run TV station. (According to a man I spoke to today, at least one conspirator tried to swim to safety.) Burundians might not be able to stage a coup like they used to, but they sure know how to stage the disruption of a coup’s planning.
This was, of course, less a coup d’etat than a pas de coup. After initial rumors of a failed military putsch swirled here in Bujumbura – threatening to upend the drunken bonhomie of salsa night at Le Kasuku – the government prudently shifted gears and retreated to less alarmist accusations, stepping back from charges that might have broader implications. According to the AFP report,
A foreign diplomat said the government originally planned to arrest a number of political opposition leaders suspected of being behind the mutiny. “But wiser heads prevailed and fortunately they decided to stick with the army.”
Good news, maybe, for opposition leaders (for now). It also provides a not too gentle reminder that this wouldn’t have been the first time the Nkurunziza regime cooked up a coup plot to silence critics.
But long-simmering tensions in the army, should they erupt into a serious revolt, would open up, as one Burundian man told me, a whole new “box of Pandora.” Not for nothing was Sinduhije fearful that the Ministry of Defense would try to pin charges of fomenting an army rebellion on him, during the last wave of discontent in December. (“It would not be a scoop if I am arrested,” he told me, wryly, at the time.)
“We have a law which is privileging those on top, but nothing for the others,” a friend was telling me.
“They’re scared. The top of the army is scared,” he said.
That 2006 law promised housing and lifetime pensions to the widows of officers killed in the line of duty, while offering nothing to the widows and children of ordinary soldiers. This, understandably, has caused a great deal of discontent among the rank-and-file.
“The guys are angry because they are afraid if they die on the front, their families will be thrown out on the street,” my friend told me. “And that’s what is happening.”
He said a group of 36 widows and nearly 200 children have been living in tents outside of a barracks here in Bujumbura since October, protesting their ill treatment by the army. Most have houses to go to – relatives or friends upcountry – but they refuse to leave until they get fair treatment. “They’re protesting against what they think is injustice,” he said. They’ve already begun to form a political movement, and are planning to make a run on parliament in this summer’s elections.
“The problem with the widows is the country is refusing to face its past,” he said. “It symbolizes the sickness of this country. Nobody wants to turn back.
“It can be very dangerous for the country.”