On March 20, 2014, members of Burundian Parliament were called (and even texted) to vote on a constitutional amendment bill that would allow the president to legally run for a 3rd term.  The government seemed to have set the stage for the bill to pass. The whole country held its breath following outcries by civil society, political opposition, and religious leaders against the proposed constitutional amendments

 On March 21st, 2014 the constitutional revision failed to pass by one vote. On April 8, following pressure from high level diplomats, political opposition and civil society, the government renounced the option of holding a referendum to approve the changes.

That was 2014. January 2015 was marked by the launch of a citizen campaign to “Stop the 3rd term”. In February, the National Secret Service Chief was sacked for daring to advise the President against running for a 3rd term. In March, the powerful Catholic Church formally opposed the 3rd term as well. The prominent Archbishop, Monseigneur Simon Ntamwana called a third bid nothing less than slavery (“KUTUGIRA ABAJA”) and prompted another civil society campaign “SINDUMUJA” (I am not a slave). Around this time, rumors of internal splits within the CNDD-FDD party around the question of the 3rd term materialized in a document initially signed by 17 prominent party members. Such internal opposition was met with a standard response: “you’re fired”[1]. President Nkurunziza insisted that his party was free to nominate whomever they deemed fit and the Constitutional Court was to say whether he could run again. In the run-up to the official announcement, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, the UN Secretary General, AU, EU, USA, Belgium, France, all called for respect of the Constitution of the Republic of Burundi and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, as well as to create conditions conducive to peaceful, transparent, free, and fair elections.  

On April 25, 2015, Pierre Nkurunziza, the incumbent President of Burundi was officially nominated by the Congress of the ruling political party, CNDD-FDD, as its candidate for the 2015 presidential elections. This nomination of Pierre Nkurunziza, who had already served two 5-year presidential terms from 2005-2010 and 2010-2015, is a violation of the Constitution and the Arusha Peace Agreement that ended a thirteen-year civil war. Inevitably, members of the population, civil society organizations, the political opposition, the Catholic Church and some of Burundi’s most prominent partners and donors opposed and/or condemned this nomination (and the subsequent political unrest).

In a culture where meekness and stoicism had long been the norm, a new generation of Burundians from all ethnic and social backgrounds took to the streets to vent their grievances against their unaccountable politicians. In the hope for a better future for Burundi, we had no option but to demonstrate peacefully and demand that our Constitution, basic freedoms, and democracy be respected. The government sent the police, our mandated security forces who pledge to serve and protect the population, to repress us while we peacefully demonstrated. They did so by shooting at protesters with live bullets, by muzzling the independent media and restricting access to social media. Intimidations by pro-government militia as well as fear of escalating violence in light of the protests have driven one hundred and eighty thousand refugees to seek asylum in neighboring countries. 

This space is to tell the story of the victims of Pierre Nkurunziza’s 3rd term, the stories of the people, "enfants du pays", their hopes, dreams, challenges, shortcomings, and their premature and unjust deaths. We aim to tell their individual stories[2], to humanize their struggle, to return their dignity….to recognize their contribution to the nation and to not let their lives be lost in vain or be left anonymous. These people died at the hands of those entrusted with executive power to strengthen Burundi’s nascent democracy, ensure peace and security, and protect the rights of Burundian citizens for the past ten years – President Pierre Nkurunziza and his government.

[1] http://www.iwacu-burundi.org/cinq-gouverneurs-de-province-vires-et-remplaces/;http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20150325-burundi-nkurunziza-sanctions-parti-pouvoir-cndd-fdd-ntanyungu-festus/; http://fr.africatime.com/burundi/db/burundi-le-parti-au-pouvoir-sanctionne-ses-membres-opposes-au-3e-mandat-du-president-nkurunziza

[2] Although our aim is to honor their memory, our ability to do so is subject to the security on the ground, meaning that some cases may prove too sensitive to work on. For that reason, the names of witnesses in the stories have been altered. We give priority to cases that will not put any of us in danger. Nonetheless, we are deeply saddened that a human life should be lost for one man’s selfish interests and to maintain a morally, politically and economically corrupt system of power. Besides the many protesters who died, Pierre Nkurunziza has also put many of his own governmental agents, many just showing up for work, in danger, also losing their lives unnecessarily.