On May 17, 2018, Burundians will head to the polls to vote on a constitutional referendum that could potentially roll back decades of peace building work, while allowing armed conflict to happen in the country once again. President Pierre Nkurunziza has lead Burundi since the end of its civil war in 2005. Now, he’s pushing to make changes to the country’s constitution, which would allow him to stay in office until 2034. This could potentially jeopardize every peace building effort the country has been working on for years, and, in order to understand why, we have to look at their past.
Burundi is located in East Africa and home to 11 million people — most of which are ethnically Hutu. However, it’s also home to a substantial number of Tutsis- a minority ethnic group. The Tutsi’s controlled the military-run government in the past, and often resorted to violent measures to control the majority Hutu population.
In 1992, the nation formed a new constitution and elected their first democratically-chosen leader, Melchior Ndadaye , in 1993, thus putting an end to the military scrutiny. However, just months into his presidency, Ndadaye was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers, sparking a brutal civil war.
A referendum was created in 2000 that implemented a number of peacekeeping measures in the country, including how long leaders can serve. However, Nkurunziza, who was elected by parliament shortly after all this happened, is seeking to change the rules so he can stay in office longer. Since then, thousands of Burundians have fled the country, because of the violence they’ve faced or could face, if they speak out against the referendum. Many wonder if the election results will spark fresh conflict in the country.