Burundi’s political background
Burundi is a small but densely populated land-locked country in the heart of Africa. It consistently ranks among the least-developed countries in the world, ranking 184 out of 188 on the 2015 Human Development Index. Moreover, it has witnessed decades of violent civil conflict between ethnic groups since its independence in 1962.
The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement ended the most recent episode of large-scale violence, the 1993-2005 Civil War. Under the supervision of a number of subsequent UN missions, hopes ran high for Burundi’s peaceful transition to a multiparty democracy.
However, around the 2010 elections, relations between political parties hardened. Many of the main opposition parties boycotted the elections out of concerns that they would be unfair.
President Nkurunziza’s contested decision to run for a third term, judged by some to be unconstitutional, sparked a major political crisis in 2015. Violent protests, an attempted coup d’etat and a refugee stream followed. The political landscape became polarized and parties weakened. Strong political distrust and a lack of inclusive dialogue between different groups still pose a significant challenge today.
The approach of NIMD in Burundi
NIMD, together with its partner organization the Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP), aims to solve this political deadlock through a combination of different interventions:
- implementing organizational and programmatic capacity strengthening for political parties;
- stimulating and facilitating inter-party dialogue;
- running a democracy school programme, which contributes to building a culture of respect for democratic values on the community level;
- supporting the participation of women and youth in politics.
Essentially, NIMD prepares and assists political parties to engage in constructive dialogue together. In the current context of polarization, with parties sometimes poorly equipped to stand up to the Burundi’s challenges, this process of dialogue could be the way forward for one of the world’s poorest countries.
As part of a strategy for unlocking the political deadlock, NIMD and BLTP stimulate political parties to develop their capacity to participate in the political landscape and during elections. The programme engages all key political parties and groupings in capacity building activities, including both multiparty and individual training sessions.
The training is designed to lay the foundations for political parties to participate in peaceful and constructive dialogue. Topics include non-violent political communication, dialogue skills and conflict resolution.
In addition to the different multiparty trainings, NIMD also facilitates internal party discussions, and helps parties to translate these discussions into policy positions on key issues. Given the limited political space for opposition, the training sessions of the NIMD-BLTP programme are a way for opposition parties to meet each other in person. This helps to maintain active party structures.
In 2017, a strategic planning process is envisaged, through which parties will identify their own organizational needs for improvement and the strategies they will use to accomplish this. This means that parties take ownership over their own capacity-building trajectory.
While capacity building leads to strong and organized political parties, with policy positions and the organizational structure to pursue them, a continued engagement in dialogue between parties is also needed to break the political deadlock and move forward.
NIMD, together with BLTP, organizes regular meetings on the provincial level, for all major parties. Apart from facilitating political discussions on the policy issues that face Burundi, these multi-party meetings aim to build a foundation for lasting cooperation between the main political parties in Burundi in the immediate aftermath of the election crisis. They contribute to building both trust and capacity among the political players by enhancing their skills and attitudes on dialogue and political reconciliation.
One remarkable feat is that teams of trainers that lead these meetings are composed of members of different parties, working together to improve the dialogue skills of the key Burundian parties. This cooperative methodology encourages party members to work together, and helps overcome mutual distrust.
Since 2011, NIMD and BLTP have also been running democracy schools in Burundi, where participants internalize democratic values at the lowest community level: that of the “collines”, the Burundian hills. Currently, there are schools in eight provinces.
NIMD is constantly working on further developing the setup of the schools and the curriculum. For instance, the training modules have been recently revised to address security problems, a key concern for communities in Burundi, and participation is now open to police officers. As such, the schools also contribute to improved trust between communities and local police.
In 2016 alone, 420 democratic “development catalyst” laureates were trained. These included 300 community leaders and members of political parties at the grassroots level, and 120 police officers. Around 30% of the participants of the Democracy Schools are women. On top of this, 52 alumni have so far been elected onto local councils, while 21 have been elected council chiefs.
Participation of women and youth in politics
In all its activities in Burundi, NIMD adheres to its principles of inclusivity and diversity. The participation of women and youth is stimulated and facilitated across all projects. In addition, NIMD and BLTP organize multiparty meetings specifically for women of different political parties. In these meetings, the participants discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by women in politics, and together formulate strategies to improve their levels of participation. The same applies to young members of the political parties, whose political leadership potential for the future is supported through special activities and trainings.