Burundiby Senator James M. Inhofe
Posted on 2015-12-09
INHOFE. Mr. President, I am here today to speak a bit about
Burundi--something the Presiding Officer is familiar with.
I had occasion to be in Burundi at their request some 16 years ago. At that time, the President's name was Buyoya. He is not there anymore; they have changed Presidents. There is something going on there on which I [[Page S8522]] think the State Department has dropped the ball one more time in not interpreting, not understanding what the people of a country want: their self-determination.
Despite its history of outside interference, civil wars, and social unrest, Burundi has emerged as a largely cohesive society, overcoming the ethnic divisions that plagued it in the 20th century, back at the time when I was first there.
On April 3, I led a congressional delegation of six Members to Burundi, where we visited with President Nkurunziza. President Nkurunziza is in the middle of his second elected term in office. We talked to members of the Parliament, had really intimate relations with the members of the Parliament. We actually prayed together. We met together, and we got to know them quite well.
We saw continued growth as a democracy and signs of movement toward a diversified economy under the leadership of President Nkurunziza. He announced on April 25 that he would run for President again and was met by increased protests and criticism from the international community, primarily led by us. Our State Department, the United Nations, and a few other countries seem to think they know more about an independent nation than they know. So they were criticizing him for running for office again.
Here is the problem: A provision in their Constitution says that no one can run for the Presidency of Burundi more than two times. The problem is that he was not elected the first time; he was appointed by Parliament. So essentially, yes, he was elected once, but he hadn't been elected again until this recent election. But, again, why would we even want to get involved in it? On May 4, Burundi's Constitutional Court ruled that President Nkurunziza's first term did not count because he was picked by Parliament rather than elected by the people. That was followed by a failed coup, which took place right after that.
Leading up to the Presidential elections, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union urged ``all Burundian stakeholders to respect the decision of the Constitutional Court, when delivered.'' So now we have the African Union, we have the courts, and we have the people in an election talking about the fact that, yes, he is qualified to run a third time--all except our government, which wants to impose its desires on another country.
On May 29, six of us were in Burundi. We voiced our support for the decision of Burundi's Constitutional Court and called on the international community to support the court's ruling.
President Nkurunziza won his reelection for President on July 21; he got 69 percent of the vote. Instead of working with Burundi and its people, the international community has been denouncing the election and stepped up pressure on the newly elected government via sanctions and withdrawal of support. The United States suspended military training in July.
That is one of the things we do around the world that are really working now--a train-and-equip program, going to the country and working with them, helping to train those individuals. Of course, when that happens, we have the allegiance of those countries. If we don't do it, we can be sure that China or somebody else is going to do it. It is something that works. We withdrew that training. We are creating vacuums that are going to be filled by people who might be prone toward terrorism.
We suspended the military training. We announced that Burundi will no longer benefit from the trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act beginning in 2016 and sanctioned four individuals who have contributed to the turmoil, including threats to peace, security actions that undermine democratic institutions, and human rights abuses.
I am concerned that the responses by the United States and the international community will do more harm than good in terms of finding a resolution to the current political crisis. Young people are going to be denied jobs. They are not going to have the economic opportunities to participate.
According to a New York Times article written on December 5, the violence seems to have shifted from what appeared to be government- sponsored to rebel-sponsored. ``There have been more assassination attempts, more grenades tossed at government property and more random shootings . . . all thought to be the handiwork of the opposition.'' Yesterday, December 8, nearly 100 Burundian protesters who opposed President Nkurunziza during the months of violence in Bujumbura were released from prison.
We have to continue to support and stand with the people of Burundi and their growth as a democratic nation. The United States and international community should support and encourage a political resolution, not drive division and further unrest.
While the violence and the loss of life that has occurred in Burundi can't be condoned, the situation could have been much worse if it were not for the actions taken by President Nkurunziza, the opposition forces, and the people of Burundi.
I have been working to bring all parties together to resolve their differences and was encouraged by comments made at Burundi's National Prayer Breakfast by President Nkurunziza and the representatives of different political parties about looking forward and not looking back. There was tremendous applause.
These countries on the continent of Africa meet in small groups on a regular basis, in the Spirit of Jesus, actually, and they have the National Prayer Breakfast now. Except for the outside interference, peace has been settling in and people are living with the decision they made--of course, 69 percent of them having voted for this President.
I echo Uganda's President Museveni's--whom we are very close to-- confidence that a lasting solution to the conflict in Burundi will be found. I encourage all sides to meet together in Kampala or have a meeting there as soon as possible to begin resolving political differences. I consider President Museveni a friend. I believe he is the leader who can facilitate efforts to find a lasting solution to the political situation in Burundi. The way forward begins first with putting the elections behind us and acknowledging that Pierre Nkurunziza is the President of Burundi; second, an immediate agreement by all sides to work together to end the violence and to provide the time needed to resolve differences in Kampala, and this also includes the international community, which I charge to take positive actions to help enhance peace versus merely demanding it through punishment; and finally, beginning all-inclusive meetings in Kampala under the leadership of President Museveni from Uganda.
I understand the fears that Burundi may regress toward ethnic violence, but I do not agree that it is a likely outcome of the current situation. We are going have to work on Burundi and not isolate it and its people. Only by working together to maintain stability and calm can we avoid widespread bloodshed, and the harshest critics are predicting that will come true.
I know there are some good people there, but I have intimate relations with the leadership in many of the countries. I see what we are doing that is wrong. I remember that the same group of people--the United Nations, the State Department, and France--got involved in Cote d'Ivoire when President Gbagbo had won a legitimate election. It was rigged by someone who wasn't even from Cote d'Ivoire.
I have been making several critical speeches on our involvement. It seems like we seem to want to impose our ideas on other countries when it is not to their best interest. I want everyone to be aware that this is a problem that is real.