By Ann Garrison
Dr. Charles Kambanda’s essay, which was first posted to the Facebook forum Friends of Reason, brought reason to the discussion of presidential term limits in Burundi, which had been overwhelmed by propaganda and fearmongering about the renewal of ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsis in the tiny East African nation.
KPFA Weekend News Anchor David Rosenberg: The international discussion of whether or not Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has the legal right to run for another term in office took a rational turn in recent weeks, thanks to Rwandan American lawyer and former National University of Rwanda professor Dr. Charles Kambanda. Kambanda first posted his essay to a Facebook forum, Friends of Reason, which is devoted to discussion of war and peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. KPFA’s Ann Garrison, who studies and participates in the Friends of Reason Facebook forum, spoke to Dr. Kambanda.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Dr. Kambanda, could you explain how you brought the voice of reason to the debate about the Burundian constitutional and political crisis in the Facebook forum Friends of Reason?
Kambanda: The reason why I wrote that piece was to bring the academic aspect into this debate. The debate had basically taken a propaganda trend. My intention was to bring reason into the debate by demonstrating the legal aspects of the problem, and also demonstrating that beyond what people call the constitutional crisis, there are other complex political and social problems.
KPFA: And it’s your position that the Burundian constitution gives President Pierre Nkurunziza the right to run again, for another term, and that this has been confirmed by the Burundian constitutional court, right?
Kambanda: Yes. The law of the land, the supreme law of the land, is the constitution and Article 96 is clear that a person serves two terms, cannot serve beyond two terms if he was elected by universal suffrage. Now, Nkurunziza has served only one term, meaning that, under Article 96, he has the right to run for president, and, if elected by the people, then he becomes the president. He has the right; that’s the constitution.
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza
KPFA: We don’t have time to go deeply into your analysis, but can you summarize why the Arusha Accord on Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi has been improperly invoked, as though it were ruling law in this situation?
Kambanda: The Arusha agreement was not meant to live forever. Like any agreement, it had its own termination clause. Every party to the agreement performed their part of the bargain, and on September 4, 2005, the United Nations Secretary General reported to the United Nations Security Council that all the parties had fully performed the terms of the agreement and it was time to dissolve the committee that had been instituted to enforce the implementation of the agreement, meaning that, on that date, the Arusha agreement terminated by its own terms. So you cannot bring it back as a legal document.
KPFA: OK, now could you tell us about the Facebook forum “Friends of Reason”? It’s noteworthy, as a media story, that you have a lot of status in this forum, which includes a number of people who were your students at various East African universities, and your argument obviously had impact, almost immediately after you posted it.
Kambanda: Friends of Reason has very many prominent international policymakers. We have people from almost all the donor countries, or Western countries. We have some people there from China, Russia, Britain, France, USA, Germany. We have so many people in this group. Most of them don’t write, but they read what we write there. So, it’s like Friends of Reason brings primary data to the community and then policymakers process that and then make a decision. I find that is the role of Friends of Reason.
KPFA: OK, Charles Kambanda, thank you for speaking to KPFA.
Kambanda: Thank you, Ann.
KPFA: A transcript of this KPFA News report will be published shortly on the website of the San Francisco Bay View, sfbayview.com, along with Dr. Kambanda’s essay and the audio archive of his interview on CIUT-Toronto’s Taylor Report.