Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One Brave Man Leaves Burundi

Burundi is a small country similar in size and topography as Rwanda.  Ethnically it is also similar to Rwanda with Hutu, Tutsi and Twa.  Burundi was once part of Rwanda before both countries achieved independence in 1962.

This is where the similarities end.  After Rwanda’s Genocide the country rebuilt and has remained relatively stable since 1994.  Burundi had similar ethnic strife and peace has been a fragile day-to-day balance since 1993.  In recent weeks, the balance has teetered and the world watches, no one wanting to speak aloud the word we all fear, genocide.

The current President, Pierre Nkurunziza is a Hutu, representative of the majority of the population.  He is in his second and final term according to the Constitution of this Africa nation.  Pierre Nkurunziza has done little to move Burundi forward since taking office in 2005.  The country still ranks as one of the poorest in the world and in 2013, Burundians were the hungriest people in the world according to the Global Hunger Index.

On April 25th of this year, with elections slated to be held in August, President Pierre Nkurunziza confirms he will run for a third term asPresident.  His opponents say this move is unconstitutional and violates the Arusha accords, which ended the civil war in 2006.  Africa has a long line of “leaders” who have come to power and then simply did not want to leave.  President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, many of the Arab countries.  Agree or disagree with the current US President he will not be returning to office in 2016.  As Americans we cannot imagine Presidents who never leave.  We cannot imagine someone simply voiding the Constitution for his or her own personal gain.  But on the continent of Africa, it happens more often than not.

This morning I shook the hand of man who was willing to risk everything to speak out against President Nkurunziza’s demand to seek reelection to a third term.  Judge Sylvere Nimpagaritse, vice president ofBurundi’s constitutional court, along with most of the other six judges,believed it was unconstitutional to stand for a third term.  Sylvere was the only one who did not succumb to the threats and pressure to rubber stamp President Nkurunziza’s request. 

Last night Sylvere Nimpagaritse, his wife and five children boarded my flight in Kigali and left for a safe haven and refuge in Europe.  He was the last one standing saying this was wrong.

I am seeker of justice, a defender of the underdog, with an abhorrence of governments and governmental officials who take advantage of the people they are supposed to be serving.  How can one continue to seek personal power while those around him are suffering and hungry? 

The world needs more men like Sylvere Nimpagaritse.  Men, African men, who will stand up to the leaders on this continent and fight for the law, their country and their people.

I sit here knowing Rwanda will be tackling this same issue in a couple of years.  President Kagame is in his last term.  The rumblings of a third term are already gaining momentum because this President has paved the way forward for Rwanda, strengthened the economy and made Rwanda one of the safest countries in Africa.  Rwanda does not look like Burundi, but does that make it any different?  Is a Constitution still a Constitution or simply a piece of paper with words of grey, easily manipulated or simply shredded? 

20,000 refugees from Burundi have entered Rwanda.  

Godspeed Judge Nimpagaritse and your brave family. 

Make a stand.

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