Burundi: Support the Popular Uprising against President Nkurunziza!
No to Any Military Coup d’État! Onward to a Government of the Workers and Peasants!
By Johannes Wiener, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 19.5.2015, www.thecommunists.net
The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) supports the democratic struggle of the masses of Burundi. At the same time, we strongly condemn the attempted coup of high-ranking military officers against the government of Burundi which took place on May 13 and 14. We stand in solidarity with the rebellious masses and their just struggle for democratic rights and social justice and call for unanimity of the fighting workers and rural poor irrespective of their ethnic origins. In order to win, revolutionaries must link the struggle of the popular masses for democratic and social demands with the perspective of a workers’ and peasants’ government.
Although Burundi is a relatively small country on the coast of Lake Tanzania, it has more the 10 million inhabitants. Its economy depends almost entirely on agriculture (mostly the production of tea and coffee) in which more than 90% of the population is employed. The export of coffee contributes up to 25% of the all Burundi’s exports. Most of the population still depends on subsistence farming.
In addition to agriculture, Burundi also has some light industry (the production of blankets, shoes, and soap). This sector incorporates the country’s small working class – about 5% of all employed. Finally, the country also possesses valuable natural resources such as uranium, platinum, gold, nickel, and copper.
Nevertheless, Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world and, according to the Global Hunger Index, it is the hungriest country in the world. The average life expectancy is no more than 49 years for men and 52 years for women! At the same time, the country’s economy is exporting huge quantities of coffee to the world and is geared mostly to producing this commodity. As a result, more than 60% of the people do not have enough food! This once again illustrates the completely wicked logic of capitalist production.
A History of Ethnic Conflict
Burundi was occupied and exploited by Belgian imperialism until the 1960s. Thereafter, the country, while gaining formal independence, continued to fall victim to imperialist rule by successive pro-Western military dictatorships. The colonial lackeys of the Belgians and the later military dictatorships were dominated by the Tutsi minority of the country (about 15% of the population).
The domination of the Tutsis in the bureaucracy of the military dictatorship led to ethnic tensions which exploded in the early 1990s with the outbreak of civil war when the first democratically elected President of Burundi, a Hutu, was assassinated by Tutsi extremists. In the subsequent armed conflict ethnic cleansing and massacres spread rapidly leading to the death of more than 300,000 people.
The civil war came to an end in 2005 when the current constitution was approved by a referendum and a few months later a bourgeois Hutu president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was elected by the Hutu dominated parliament. However, the country still suffers from the effects of these conflicts as is reflected, for example, in the many disputes about the ownership of land.
“Democracy” in the Interest of Imperialism
Since assuming office, Nkurunziza has done nothing to put an end to the hunger, poverty, and plunder by imperialism of his country. Quite the contrary, he and the bureaucracy loyal to him have proved to be very useful puppets for the imperialist exploitation of the people of Burundi. Nkurunziza stands for a system which is widespread in Africa: a semi-bonapartist and semi-bourgeois-democratic system. This form of rule, which is strongly supported by imperialism and the local elites in Africa, is characterized by “democratic” elections every few years in which another completely corrupt candidate, who is of course also absolutely loyal to the foreign plunderers (the EU, USA, China, Japan), gets into office. These African presidents, who decorate their parties with the titles “patriotic,” “national,” or “democratic”, have proved to be completely incapable and unwilling to achieve even small changes in favor of the rural poor and the workers of their countries. If they fail in their role of puppets of imperialism, they are replaced in forged elections or by a military coup. As time passes, this pseudo-democracy, even in the bourgeois sense of the word, is less and less able to delude the masses. Thus, even Burundi, where such “democratic” governing is relatively new (indeed Nkurunziza has been the only president since the confirmation of the country’s constitution) already faces rebellion by its poor masses.
The Burundi Uprising
Even Burundi’s Security Minister, General Gabriel Nizigama, had to admit on 2 May that the movement against the president is an “uprising.” This movement was triggered by President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he intends to run for a third term as president, something prohibited by Burundi’s constitution. This announcement was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Years and years of misery, hunger, exploitation, and undemocratic rule erupted into the mass movement we see today. About 20 people were shot in the streets by the military and the police and hundreds have been arrested. Thousands fled to neighboring countries.
The RCIT supports all attempts by the poor and working masses to improve their living conditions and to fight for democratic rights. As revolutionaries and Leninists we know that bourgeois democracy is democracy for and under the control of the rich. But bourgeois “democracy” is not reduced to simply this. As revolutionary working class fighters, we don’t just fight for the working class’s economic demands. We also struggle for its democratic rights to organize and to struggle. In addition, revolutionaries also fight for the social and democratic rights of all oppressed and poor people.
Bourgeois democracy embodies not only the laws which permit the capitalist class and the land owners to exploit the workers, the poor, and the landless peasants. To a certain degree, it also provides the oppressed with democratic rights. Therefore, we defend bourgeois democracy against reactionary forces like the army. This is the case today not only in Burundi but also in Thailand and Egypt. We also support the struggle of the masses to extend their democratic rights, as they still have illusions in bourgeois democracy and such illusions can only be overcome by experience. At the same time, revolutionaries have to educate the masses about the class character of bourgeois democracy and its limitations.
Failed Coup d’État
The crisis in Burundi also led to reactionary attempts to “solve” it. On 13 May, General Godefroid Niyombare declared that the government and President Nkurunziza had been dismissed. At the time, President Nkurunziza was in Tanzania to discuss the crisis in his country. After some light fighting between soldiers loyal to Nkurunziza and soldiers loyal to Niyombare, the putschists accepted that they were simply too weak and that popular support for their coup was very limited. Only a day after the coup leader had declared the government to be dismissed, the rebels capitulated.
It now appears that, after the failed military coup, the democratic movement is also increasingly vulnerable. Nkurunziza is presenting quite bizarre arguments to justify the use of the military against his own people and, like his imperialist friends, he’s only too happy to exploit the alleged threat of Islamism as an excuse to weaken democratic rights. In one statement he claimed that the Somalian al-Shabab militia might yet intervene in Burundi: "We are very preoccupied by al-Shabab's well-known attack. You know that Burundi has contributed to sending troops to Somalia so we came here to contact our friends and colleagues here in Kenya as well as in Uganda," Nkurunziza added: "Both are privileged targets for al-Shabab. The agenda is to put in place proactive measures to face these attacks that are a security risk to the citizens of Burundi."
A Revolutionary Perspective
Independent from such pathetic attempts at whitewashing by the government of Burundi, the mass movement must advance its struggle. Revolutionaries in Burundi must strive to unite the struggle for democracy with the fight against hunger, capitalism, and imperialism. Only when the working masses of Burundi take power and spread the revolution to all of southern and central Africa will they be able to successfully fight hunger and misery. Only when the oppressed themselves have power in their hands will they achieve real democratic change and authentic democratic rights.
Therefore, the working masses and the oppressed must fight to set up action committees in the districts and villages, in the plantations, factories, and harbors. Within such action committees revolutionaries should fight for a socialist perspective, and strive to broaden and deepen such committees into soviets.
We also call for a revolutionary constitutional assembly to unite the poor masses in their struggle for more democratic rights. It is particularly important to unite all oppressed and poor people – no matter whether they are Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa! Ethnic tensions are a dangerous poison for the oppressed, as we have previously seen in Burundi and as we see in South Africa today!
Revolutionaries should fight for the nationalization of the land under the control of the poor peasants! And they should struggle for a congress of the rural poor to decide how to best distribute and till the land.
Revolutionary fighters in Burundi must struggle for an anti-imperialist perspective. All foreign enterprises and land ownerships must be nationalized immediately, under control of the workers. All foreign debts must be cancelled immediately! No negotiations with the IMF and the World Bank – throw them out and don’t pay a single franc or dollar!
Revolutionaries in Burundi should organize a conference to found a revolutionary organization in their country. Such an organization will fight for the taking of power by the workers and peasants and for spreading the revolution! The struggle for the formation of a government of the workers and peasants is an urgent task for the masses.
Imperialists out of Africa!
For a Socialist Federation in Sub-Saharan Africa!
All Power to the Workers and Peasants!
One World, One Struggle, One Revolution!