Tag Archives: “burundi coup”

They don’t cook coups the way they used to.

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.”

There was a time when a good coup in Burundi could be counted on for family fun and entertainment. These days? You're lucky to get a couple of drunk, decommissioned soldiers trying to escape by canoe!

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.

All dressed up with no one to overthrow.

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.

In fairness, these guys don't need too much provocation to begin with.

“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.”

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First you salsa; then you coup.

It is 8:15am in Burundi right now, which means the government has had a good 12 hours or so to doctor its story regarding last night’s alleged foiled coup. I would like to say I’ve been diligently burning the midnight oil, working the phones and probing trusted sources for all the juicy details. Sadly, this has not been the case. Instead I’ve spent the better part of the past 12 hours at Le Kasuku’s salsa night, lending further credence to the time-tested wisdom that a good salsa, like a good coup, is all in the hips.

Little breaking news to report so far. Early reports, according to the BBC, uncovered a dubious plot of ambiguous provenance.

Thirteen soldiers in Burundi have been arrested for plotting a coup to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza, the army chief of staff has said.

Major Gen Godefroid Niyombare said the 12 soldiers and one officer had been caught in a meeting near Lake Tanganyika earlier on Friday.

Investigations were ongoing and more arrests should be expected, he added.

Opposition candidate Alexis Sinduhije, as I noted last night, was wary of where those investigations might lead.

“They are going to arrest me again,” he said. “They are going to arrest me and say Alexis has plotted to overthrow the government. They have been working on something to destroy the whole parties.

“Everyone is calling me. They think we are targeted.”

The popular wisdom around the bar last night held that the coup plot was cooked up by anxious ruling party cadres desperate for an opposition leader to pin it on. At least one cheeky ex-pat – who may or may not have been this reporter – suggested we start a betting pool on which presidential hopeful would be behind bars before the weekend was through. He also recommended, given this country’s troubled history, that a new term – beaucoup d’etat – be introduced into the political lexicon to describe a country in which the military coup has supplanted the democratic election as the preferred means of transition.

On-the-ground reports here in Bujumbura, meanwhile, have provided the sort of levity that only a failed coup can provide. There was the much recycled rumor that the alleged plotters were arrested in pirogues – i.e., dug-out canoes – in Lake Tanganyika. (“We don’t do coups by water,” said one Burundian.) Then there was the claim made by at least two ex-pats that the Minister of Defense was seen boozing at a Chinese restaurant with the Chinese ambassador, a full two hours after details of the alleged coup surfaced. This is, you have to admit, a funny way to react to a coup.

I will be following the latest news – no, seriously – throughout the day, and should have a better sense of where things stand some time this afternoon. Also, for what it’s worth, I would like to note that I broke the coup story on Twitter a good 20 minutes or so before the BBC. I suppose that makes me the no. 1 trusted news source for stories you care nothing about.