Kenya has called for a delay in Burundi’s presidential elections as demonstrators in the capital city of Bujumbura continue to protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a controversial third term in office.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, told Nkurunziza by phone to postpone elections beyond the June 26 scheduled date, his spokesperson told Reuters on Monday.
Burundi and Kenya are both part of the East African Community (EAC), whose leaders met last week to discuss the crisis. During the meeting in Tanzania, expelled Burundian military leader Godefroid Niyombare launched a coup attempt that sent the capital into chaos before it ultimately failed.
Kenyatta’s spokesperson also said that EAC leaders share the same concern, and urged Nkurunziza to delay the vote until there was a “conducive environment” for elections to take place -- though not past the end of August, the official end of his term.
More than 20 people have been killed in less than a month in Burundi’s capital city, amid waves of tension and clashes between pro-government officers and protesters.
The chaos started when Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term, despite the fact that Burundi’s constitution stipulates that a president may only run for two five-year terms. The rules are based on the Arusha Agreement, a treaty signed over a decade ago in Tanzania that helped end a bloody 12-year civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead in the small country of roughly 10 million people.
The president is now back in the capital. On Sunday morning he spoke to journalists in his first statement since the coup attempt, and made a foreboding warning that Somalian terrorist group al-Shabab was a major threat to Burundi, and his third term would help keep people safe.
Burundi is one of many countries contributing troops to the United Nations mission in Somalia focused on pushing back the militant group, which is known for targeting associated nations such as Kenya. But the jihadist group quickly responded to Nkurunziza’s comments, denying any such plans for Burundi.
“We think that this is an attempt by him to appease his people, who are standing in the streets protesting against his dictatorship, or to divert the world’s attention from him while he possibly prepares his mass revenge,” al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahamud Rage said in a statement.
In recent weeks, more than 100,000 people have fled Burundi to surrounding countries such as Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.