Burundi’s ruling coalition tumbled Monday as an opposition voting bloc seized power. In a surprise move, a coalition led by the Independents of Hope and the Union for National Progress pulled support out from under President Pierre Nkurunziza’s National Council for the Defense of Democracy.
Nkurunziza’s hold on power in the Central African nation had been teetering for months, barely surviving a coup attempt in May 2015. His top-heavy regime struggled to overcome a persistent resistance movement. and clumsily overreached in its security response, drawing the ire of UN leaders. This time, the opposition, backed by Major General’s Godefroid Niyombare’s armed forces, was finally able to overturn the government.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, welcomed Nkurunziza’s fall from power. “Over his past three terms, the President has been systematically dismantling Burundi’s national institutions, brick by brick, only to raise himself higher as a dictator” the ambassador wrote in a statement. “The building blocks of free society were at risk.”
However, Power expressed concerns over the future stability of the region. The shakeup has resulted in a power imbalance in the capital city of Bujumbura. “There is a difficult rebuilding process ahead,” the ambassador said. “The priority now is to reconstruct the Burundian society, and prevent the situation from deteriorating further.”
“We’ve reached a tipping point. How we react depends on how well the interim government is able to pick up the pieces. It’s Niyombare’s move now.”
Jan Smutwurst, a professor of political science at York University specializing in postcolonial African states, is skeptical. “The rules of the game are different here. I don’t know if anyone will be able to re-fill the void that’s been created,” he wrote. “A new government may rise, but the foundational damage done by the past regime will continue to undermine future peace efforts.”
“While the people suffer, the ruling class will continue to rearrange the coalitions, the ruling parties,” Smutwurst continued. “It’s a game to these people. A party game.”
Experts also fear that the precarious situation will contribute to deforestation of Central African rainforests, a key source of hardwood for the global wooden block industry.