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Burundi Bishops' Communique on 2015 Elections

May 07, 2015 • Kristin Haas

Unofficial English Translation of the Official French Translation (see below).

CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF BURUNDI

General Secretariat

COMMUNIQUE OF THE CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF BURUNDI ON THE CURRENT PERIOD OF PREPARATION FOR THE 2015 ELECTIONS

Brothers and sisters in faith, Dear Burundians,

The Peace of Christ be with you!

1. The times we are experiencing are severe and their management requires wisdom. A few days separate us from the first electoral appointment. However, the elections are an important moment in the life of a nation which came in a democratic system. We also find ourselves in a period where young people who attend the schools are preparing to conclude the school year, during which some classes are pass the national competition for the winners to have access to higher levels of secondary school University.

2. We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, had come to deliver a message inviting people to prepare for the elections with the aim of promoting peace and reconciliation. In fact, when we recommended that “our Constitution be interpreted in the spirit of the Arusha Agreement from which it emanated,” our wish was to see that our country go to elections in peace and to conclude them without deviating from the right path, to respect each other in diversity, to share power and the common good without exclusion. This is what could help us take another step in this process of peace and reconciliation initiated with the Agreement of Arusha process whose seats are power sharing and the common good, the establishment of institutions of justice and security in which all the components of society come together and that people trust and the institutions that can help our country to develop.

3. But now, since the ruling party appointed the current President of the Republic for it to be its candidate for the presidency, who had threatened that they would fight through street demonstrations this third mandate violates the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution of the Republic, began to demonstrate in the streets. Thus, we find ourselves in a climate of tension, especially in the city of Bujumbura in which these demonstrations that oppose protesters and security agents, there are already prisoners, a lot of injuries and even deaths. This climate of tension also some services in Bujumbura do not work and that schools are closed. Moreover, there are a lot of people who have fled their countries, while others no longer sleep in their homes for fear of being killed. Also, when we exchange with people, we realize that many of them are afraid of open warfare that can erupt at any time. It was this fear-panic makes some people continue to flee the country, while the students empty their boarding to take refuge in their families.

4. No serious person who loves his country, especially if he is a leader or a politician, should take lightly this situation or be indifferent. We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, in times like these, although some have difficulty accepting our advice – some even in their political struggle confuse us with their political opponents – we feel touched by the invitation that God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel: Son of man, say to my people, “they listen to you or they do not listen (…) they will know that they have a prophet among them” (Ez.2,5). In providing guidance, we do not consider whether these are the people in power or the opposition. Our first concern is rather to tell the truth that could save the country and its people, by highlighting the need to safeguard the common good, based on our faith and the rich social doctrine of our Church, for our Catholic Church is one. It is in this context that today we also want to give our advice starting from the current situation.

5. We urge everyone to take the path of election, so that the country does not lack institutions elected by the people and enjoying the trust of the people. All those who are charged with the responsibility to ensure that the elections take place safely, with complete freedom of movement for candidates and voters, in a competition which offers candidates the same opportunity to present their social projects and to run their campaigns in peace. For this, the security officials must do everything to restore security everywhere, so that reassured refugees will return home, services resume as normal, students return to their schools, and rumored reports of a distribution of weapons to young people affiliated to political parties is verified and, if proved, there is a systematic and indiscriminate disarmament, to create conditions for elections where a candidate is elected by choice and not by the intimidation of weapons.

6. Let us renew the path of dialogue and consultation and renounce these paths of confrontation and violence, in which reign the reason of the strongest. The path up to now that has been good for us is this: people in conflict sit around a table for dialogue and consultation. This is the path that has been taken to achieve the Arusha Peace Agreement. And thanks to this agreement, we just spent a good ten years in a good process of peace and reconciliation. We are pleased that the current leaders of our country always reaffirm the primacy of this path of dialogue and consultation. In the recent past, we see that it is in this way that we could get to the Electoral Law of consensus and the Roadmap of politicians. According to the wisdom of our ancestors, do not hesitate to borrow a path that leads to a safe harbor. So instead of staying in this confrontational path that even causes loss of life, our leaders and all the key actors must resolutely take the path of dialogue and consultation.

7. We also ask leaders and those who want to gain power, to behave as Burundians worthy of the name, who love their homeland. Governing is a great mission to serve everyone. This mission asks them not to seek only their personal or sectarian interests. Whoever wants to govern agrees to be the father of the nation. A good father is one who can even waive his right when he sees that it is that which is the salvation of his family. Can you imagine a father who loves his own family and who dares to highlight his own personal interests at the peril of his family? The mission of a politician is a noble mission, a mission of a father, which requires self-sacrifice and service for all, not only limited to his supporters, because he is responsible for all. Moreover, because of their mission, politicians should stand by their word, worthy of respect and honor. If this is required in an everyday fashion, all the more is it required of them to avoid inappropriate and offensive language, denigrating or divisive, during the period of election campaigns.

8. The media play an important role in strengthening democracy. The greater their number, the more they give citizens the opportunity to express their views and be informed about what is happening in the world. In the electoral process in particular, the citizens are to be informed about the political programs of all so that they can make a good choice. It is therefore right that the media retain their freedom to work in compliance with the laws that govern them and with the editorial line that each of them is committed to follow. If a media outlet is closed, it is the citizens who are victims, and this opens the way for the spread of rumors.

9. We also wish to provide advice in a special way to our youth. Remember that you are preparing for your future; keep yourselves from being manipulated by those who would train you in unjust paths or paths that would prevent you from a good start in preparing for yourself a good future. Do not abandon school or be absent from courses that provide you the knowledge that gives you access to compete with others for spots, which will allow you to advance in various ways. To those who are affiliated to political parties, know that if you do not avoid committing crimes despite those who support you, you will answer one day. So be wise: take the advice we give you, and all the other advice you receive from those who love you and wish you good.

10. With regard to your studies, especially regarding the date of the national exams for some of you to have access to secondary school, our plea to the competent authorities is that, as much as possible, this date be postponed. We would be sorry to see such a review done when many are refugees outside the country, most children in Bujumbura no longer in school, and when some inside the country live in a climate of fear.

11. As for the Christian faithful with whom we are in communion in faith, we would not conclude this statement without inviting you once again to continue to pray to Jesus Christ King of Peace, that he will grant peace to our country. You know that we are in the month of May, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Above all, ask her to intercede for us with her Son for that he give us lasting peace.

From Bujumbura, 5 May 2015

Signed / Your Bishops.

NB: Original text in Kirundi, this is the official [French] translation
[NB: English translation is NOT official.]

Click here for the original French text.