“I have promised not to stand for re-election in 2020, in accordance with the court’s decision. But the people are above the judiciary,” Nkurunziza said during an address in Rutana, in the south of the country.
“If the Burundian people decide to change the constitution according to their wishes, I will follow their decision as such,” he said, as reported in a series of tweets by the Ikiriho online publication, which is seen as close to the government.
Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in 2015 divided the country over interpretation of the Arusha peace agreement signed in 2000 that ended the civil war.
The country’s constitutional court ruled that the president’s first term did not count because he was not voted into power under universal suffrage. However, those opposed to Nkurunziza saw his bid for another term in office as breaking the Arusha agreement.
“The 2015 crisis was just linked to issues relating to the minerals in Burundi. The mandate was just a pretext,” Nkurunziza said in Rutana. “The Western powers behind the crisis in 2015 wanted the raw materials in Musongati,” he said referring to nickel deposits located near the border with Tanzania.
“Burundi’s problem is not the maximum numbers of terms, neither is it [the problem] in Rwanda, Cameroon, or in Uganda,” added the president, mentioning other African countries with long-standing presidents that have served several terms in office.
Those opposed to Nkurunziza told RFI that his comments on Friday morning finally revealed his desire to remain president for life.
“We knew that Nkurunziza doesn’t believe in democracy, but today he confirmed it,” said Pancrace Cimpaye, spokesperson, Council for the Observance of the Constitution, Human Rights and the Arusha Peace Accord (CNARED). “Nkurunziza will be in power in Burundi forever.”
Mediation efforts led by Tanzania’s former President Benjamin Mkapa have failed to find a compromise between the government and those opposed to Nkurunziza. Talks scheduled for July collapsed when the government pulled out. Bujumbura does not recognise CNARED and describes it as a “terrorist organisation”.
“Talks in Arusha were just a joke, we were losing time in Arusha because Mkapa and Nkurunziza convened to help Nkurunziza to go on [for re-election] in 2020,” said CNARED’s Cimpaye by telephone from Belgium.
Following the latest talks, the opposition said Mkapa was siding with the government over his recognition of Nkurunziza.
“I am in no position to determine the legitimacy of the government of Burundi,” Mkapa said during a meeting in December. “It is the people of Burundi who have lent their legitimacy to the government.”
Exiled group CNARED said that the prospect of a fourth term will mean Nkurunziza will continue a crackdown on those opposed to his rule. “If you don’t believe in democracy anymore it means that Nkurunziza will be obliged to kill people so that they agree, so that they can accept him as president for life,” said Cimpaye.
“We call on the international community so that they can come to help Burundians, so that they aren’t all killed,” added Cimpaye, saying that his group expected to meet with envoys from the African Union, Belgium, France, the UK and the UN on 5 January in Brussels.
Some 1,000 people have been killed in Burundi and almost 10,000 arrested since April 2015, according to renowned human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who said recently that “human life is no longer respected” in the country.