Coup attempt defeated in Burundi, US continues to recognize Nkurunziza

by Ann Garrison

Update: On May 18, a Defense Department official, speaking anonymously, told USA Today that the Pentagon had sent about 20 Marines “to bolster security at the embassy” in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.

KPFA Weekend News, broadcast May 16, 2015

A coup attempt prevented Burundi’s President Nkurunziza from flying home from Arusha, Tanzania, earlier this week, but Nkurunziza now seems to be firmly back in control. The U.S. has called on Nkurunziza to step down and not seek a third term in office, but they do not appear to have supported the aborted coup.

Transcript

KPFA Weekend News Anchor David Rosenberg: An attempted coup d’état fell apart in Burundi this week, but not until after the Wikipedia entry on President Pierre Nkurunziza had been revised to say that he’d been ousted from power on May 13, 2015. On that day and the next it was widely reported that coup plotters had seized and darkened Bujumbura’s International Airport, making it impossible for Burundi’s president to fly home from talks on Burundi and regional instability.

President Pierre Nkurunziza accepted his party’s nomination for a third term in April. – Photo: AFP
President Pierre Nkurunziza accepted his party’s nomination for a third term in April. – Photo: AFP

By Friday, however, the president was back home, and the general who had announced the coup on a private radio station was reported to be on the run. Other coup supporters were reported to have been arrested and arraigned, and the Wikipedia once again identified Nkurunziza as Burundi’s incumbent president. KPFA’s Ann Garrison has more.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Protest broke out in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, in April, after President Nkurunziza’s party announced that they were nominating him for a third term as president, “whatever the consequences.” Nkurunziza’s opponents say that both the 1998 Arusha Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi and the Burundian Constitution legally oblige Nkurunziza to step down, but the text of both documents is ambiguous enough to allow for legal argument on either side and Nkurunziza’s supporters and opponents line up accordingly.

Burundi neighbor Rwanda shares the same majority Hutu and minority Tutsi demographic and history of conflict. Many pundits and reporters have therefore expressed anxiety about the possible return of the ethnic violence of the 1993-2005 civil war that cost 300,000 lives. Rwandan American legal scholar Charles Kambanda has said, however, that he considers this misguided propaganda.

Charles Kambanda: There was been much misguided propaganda about what is happening in Burundi. I don’t think the Burundian problem is Hutu-Tutsi. It’s struggle for power. It is just a struggle for power.

KPFA: The U.S. has called Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term unconstitutional and called on him to step down and urged regional leaders to do the same. The U.S. also supported a U.N. Security Council resolution censuring Nkurunziza, but that was blocked by Russia and China, who declared it an internal matter for the sovereign nation of Burundi.

Gen. Godefroid Niyombare announced that Pierre Nkurunziza was no longer Burundi’s president on a private radio station on May 13 and 14. By May 15, he acknowledged that the coup had failed.
Gen. Godefroid Niyombare announced that Pierre Nkurunziza was no longer Burundi’s president on a private radio station on May 13 and 14. By May 15, he acknowledged that the coup had failed.

Some observers therefore expected that the U.S. might support the coup attempt, but on Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that it continued to recognize Nkurunziza as the country’s president. On Friday, BBC reporter Maud Julienne reported that coup leader Gen. Godefroid Niyombare was on the run and unable to count on help from either the U.S. or Rwandan Embassy.

BBC/Maud Julienn: Well, he’s on the run at the moment but he doesn’t seem to have a viable exit route in front of him. We understand that the U.S. and the Rwandan embassies, which he may have counted on for support, are not going to be helping him. He’s thought to still be in the country, though of course it’s not clear where. And he has already admitted to some journalists that he was surrendering, that the coup had failed, so it seems like a matter of hours before he too is arrested.

KPFA: Reuters reported that Burundian authorities claim to have the renegade general in custody and claim that he did not surrender but was arrested instead. The Burundian government spokesperson, again according to Reuters, has since withdrawn that statement and said that the general is still at large.

For Pacifica, KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch, Colored Opinions and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at anniegarrison@gmail.com. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.