HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsBottom Drawer: When the military impedes on democracy

Bottom Drawer: When the military impedes on democracy


In October 1993 a democratically elected president in Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, was toppled by the military and bayoneted to death at an army barracks in the capital, Bujumbura.

Three months earlier, Ndadaye had won a crushing victory in elections certified as free and fair by the international community.

Together with the president of the National Assembly and the vice-president of the National Assembly, they were taken to an army barracks before dawn by supposedly loyal soldiers under the guise that they needed protection.

The three, along with a number of other officials, were then executed with Ndadaye bayoneted to death. He was the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi after winning the landmark poll which ousted a militarised Tutsi-led regime led by Pierre Buyoya.

Ndadaye received 65% of the ballot.

Buyoya recorded 32% of the vote despite enjoying the full backing of the powerful military and key security institutions such as the police and the secret service.

A few months into his democratic tenure, the military toppled Ndadaye and murdered him, sparking a decade-long brutal civil war which claimed the lives of more than 300 000 people.

Ndadaye had antagonised the military after he attempted to introduce security sector reforms in this tiny and impoverished country, perched in central Africa.

After Ndadaye’s death, there were numerous attempts at forming a government, but even a coalition government under Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was a victim of a partisan security sector.

This led to more chaos.

On July 25, 1996, with strong support and backup from the military, Buyoya returned to power in a coup, ousting interim president, Ntibantunganya.

Ntibantunganya survived Ndadaye’s fate after he ran for dear life and sought sanctuary at the United States embassy in Bujumbura with soldiers in hot pursuit.

To an ordinary Zimbabwean’s point of view, Burundi may be far flung and of little significance.

But the dynamics that led to the ouster of the democratically elected president in Bujumbura and his subsequent murder by soldiers opposed to his ascendancy to the highest office should be a perfect point of reference for Zimbabweans, especially those wishing to wrest power democratically from President Robert Mugabe.

Events in Burundi in October 1993 have striking resemblances to the political drama unfolding in Zimbabwe.

Like Burundi, Zimbabwe faces the real possibility or maybe danger of having a political figure detested by the military and security forces occupying State House.

Service chiefs have made no secret that they will not accept anyone as President of the country who did not participate in the country’s liberation war.

They have declared they will not endorse any leader, particulary Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC-T leader.

Now with President Mugabe and Zanu PF resisting reforms in the security sector, what chances do we have that Zimbabwe will have a peaceful transition in the event of an MDC-T victory at the polls?

Should Tsvangirai prevail over President Mugabe, will he be allowed to stroll into State House with his security guaranteed by the pro-Zanu PF military, police and Central Intelligence Organisation?

Your guess is as good as mine.

What is clear as daylight is that security sector reforms should be prioritised before we can talk about holding elections this year or any other time.

Otherwise, the Burundi ramifications will be rekindled in Zimbabwe with devastating implications.

It took the lives of over 300 000 people and a whole decade of war and violence for Burundi to finally realise the need for security sector reforms.

The country is now painstakingly recovering from its dark years and current president Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, is presiding over a country that knows very well the price of embracing politics of intolerance.

Buyoya has regained his dignity after years of isolation. He is a senator for life as a former head of state.

In 2008, he was appointed by the African Union to lead a peace mission in Chad and is involved in peace-keeping and building operations in troubled countries such as Central African Republic, Chad and Mauritania.

As a former president, Ntibantunganya is presently a senator for life.

Meanwhile, the country is on a recovery path.

Zimbabweans should take heed of the turmoil that shattered Burundi for over a decade because the military, the police and secret service were so embedded to a particular establishment at the expense of nation-building.

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