After weeks of protests against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s intent to seek a third term, a cabal of military officers launched a coup on 13 May. Although the coup ultimately failed, it laid bare divisions within the military, which had thus far remained neutral. This development raises the question of how the political dispute over the president’s eligibility to seek a third term might impact the cohesiveness of Burundi’s military, integrated in the aftermath of the country’s 12-year long civil war.
Military integration is a peace-building strategy that involves incorporating or amalgamating armed groups into a statutory security framework as part of a transition from war to peace. According to Roy Licklider in New Armies from Old: Merging Competing Military Forces after Civil Wars, military integration is an increasingly common mechanism to include in peace agreements. Between 2000 and 2006, 56% of civil war settlements included provisions for integration, compared with 10% of all agreements in the 1970s.
The military integration process in Burundi was a product of the Pretoria Protocol on Political Defence and Security Power Sharing and the accompanying Forces Technical Agreement, signed in October 2003. These agreements complemented the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and stipulated that all armed groups were to be disarmed and integrated into the army and police force.
Burundi’s current political instability highlights the importance of three aspects of the country’s military integration process, which could test the cohesion of the force amidst this crisis:
- The Use of Quotas
In “Perils or Promise of Ethnic Integration? Evidence from a Hard Case in Burundi,” Cyrus Samii found that the Burundian military operates as a deeply integrated and cohesive institution at the macro levels as a result of the imposition of ethnic quotas during the process of military integration. The Arusha Accords established the concept of 50% Hutu-50% Tutsi quotas in the military in order to overcome the country’s history of coups and ethnic conflict. In addition, the top officer echelon would have 60% (Burundi Armed Forces) FAB and 40% Congress for the Defense of Democracy Forces – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), with the margin between these quotas to be made up with Hutu members of the FAB, combatants of other armed political parties, and new recruits. Samii furthermore concluded that, at the micro level, the contact that resulted from integration reduced the prejudices and ethnic salience among former combatants. This is contrary to the findings he cited from the field of social psychology, that such a method could intensify or “freeze” conflicting ethnic identities.
Favorably, the group of military and police officers that attempted to overthrow Nkurunziza was multi-ethnic, and included insiders from the president’s party, the CNDD-FDD. Meanwhile, the military has not yet fractured according to ethnic lines or civil war era armed group affiliations, which may be an indication that imposing quotas on the security forces has prevented the military from being more disruptive in a time of political uncertainty.
- Political Power-Sharing Arrangements
Burundi’s transition from war to peace included both military and political power-sharing arrangements. In “Civil War Settlements and the Implementation of Military Power-Sharing Arrangements,” Matthew Hoddie and Caroline Hartzell argue that military integration can only succeed as part of a wider peace-building initiative. Likewise, in “Rebel—Military Integration and Civil War Termination,” Katherine Glassmyer and Nicholas Sambanis suggest that political and military power-sharing provide mutually reinforcing assurances, thereby increasing the success of a military integration process. In the context of Burundi, the president’s attempt to seek a third term has arguably weakened the political pillar of these arrangements.
In February, Nkurunziza dismissed the leader of last week’s coup, General Godefroid Niyombare as head of intelligence for advising him against seeking a third term. Although Niyombare’s coup ultimately failed, it has indicated divisions in the military that are tied to how the force sees its role as a protector of the Arusha accords and the constitution. In fact, former Defence Minister Pontien Gaciyubwenge had affirmed earlier this month that the military would not take any actions that would undermine the Arusha accords and the constitution. He was sacked on Monday, in a cabinet reshuffle that also included the Ministers of External Relations and Commerce. With the erosion of political power-sharing in the spirit of the Arusha accords, it may be increasingly likely for the integrated military to disintegrate, thereby confirming the aforementioned hypothesis on the relationship between political and military power-sharing arrangements.
- Military Efficacy and Cohesion
As military integration is implemented concurrent to other peacebuilding measures, it is difficult to isolate the specific effects of the process in order to determine its success or failure. However, in New Armies from Old, Licklider attempts to designate factors that could indicate the success or failure of an integration process. One is military efficacy, which is the extent to which the new military can perform tasks or remain integrated in peacetime. In the context of Burundi, the military’s ability to contribute to regional peacekeeping operations as Nina Wilén, David Ambrosetti, and Gérard Birantamije detail in “Sending Peacekeepers Abroad, Sharing Power at Home: Burundi in Somalia,” demonstrates that the process has been successful this far, according to Licklider’s criteria. Other indicators suggested by Licklider and applied to the case of Burundi would be whether the military is subject to civilian control when ordered into use against domestic opponents, and whether the integration has made the resumption of large-scale violence less likely. Like the use of quotas and the erosion of political power-sharing arrangements, the fallout from the failed coup and fears of reprisals against the media and protesters will test the efficacy and cohesion of the Burundian military. Indeed, as protests resumed in parts of Bujumbura on Monday, it was the military that supplanted the police in restoring order to the capital city – the first time they had played this role since protests began last month. Furthermore, amid reports of thus far non-violent conflict within the military as to whether to use force to suppress the protesters, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff had to be called in to prevent the confrontation from escalating.
A decade after the end of its civil war, Burundi’s military has been considered a successful case of military integration, especially in contrast to attempts at military integration in the Eastern Congo and South Sudan. However, how the military fares in the coming weeks and months could provide important data on what factors cause militaries integrated during war-to-peace transitions to subsequently disintegrate.