By Jean Damascene Hakuzimana

Rival political parties are clashing ahead of presidential and legislative elections due to take place May 20 in Burundi, according to China Global Television Network. Aljazeera reports that the fighting includes a May 11 grenade attack that killed two people in a bar in the country’s capital of Bujumbura.

Competing political factions include the powerful party of the incumbent president Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD–FDD), and National Freedom Council (CNL), the main opposition party, led by Agathon Rwasa, a former rebel leader. Mass gatherings and rallies are being held despite the COVID-19 crisis. Human Rights Watch accuses the ruling party of having instigated fear in the public throughout the ongoing election and reports extrajudicial executions, disappearances, gender-based violence, torture, and arbitrary arrests.

The East African country goes to the polls after years of unrest and insecurity following a 2015 move by current President Pierre Nkurunziza to tack on a third consecutive term after surviving a military coup by his former ally, General Niyombare.  Since the coup attempt, Nkurunziza has not left the country in any official capacity. Once an open society, where dissenting political opinions were frequently voiced publicly, the current clampdown by the ruling party appears to be aimed at controlling dissent and consolidating power.

After the 2015-failed coup, Burundi publicly accused its northern neighbor Rwanda of involvement in the attempt to depose Nkurunziza. Rwanda has vehemently denied the allegations, and in return accused Burundi of harboring a rebel group, Force Démocratique pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which is hostile to Rwanda. The de facto feud is ongoing, with military forces from the two countries exchanging erratic fire. On May 8, soldiers clashed over an illegal border crossing on Lake Rweru, according to the Rwandan Ministry of Defense.

Burundi has expelled officials of the United Nations and Human Rights Watch from time to time, and has currently banned international media, such as Voice of America, and the BBC, accusing them of meddling in internal politics.  On May 12, Burundi expelled the country head of the World Health Organization and his staff without citing a reason, according to a report from France24.

Africa News Editor Jean Damascene Hakuzimana covered the 2010 presidential and legislative elections on the ground in Burundi.