On Tuesday I came back to the capital from having observed the elections in Gitega, the second biggest city in the center of the country. We're busy writing up a report on our observations, which I will share later, so for the moment I will withhold comments about whether irregularities were observed, but I have also been reflecting on the more general nature of the political process.

Last week the country was filled with speculation about where Agathon Rwasa, the leader of the largest opposition group, the FNL, had disappeared to. Many say he is in Congo, while at least initially his political party denied that he had left Burundi. The politics of this “Where's Rwasa?” spectacle are somewhat complex, but I'm not sure it is worth describing, since fundamentally, it has not moved the country forward in the question of who should govern and how.

 

Similarly with the Presidential elections, in which the incumbent president and soul candidate, Pierre Nkurunziza, reportedly won with between 60 and 97% of the vote, depending on the province. When you think about the process leading up to and following this process, however, it feels like the actual value that was supposed to come from the activity has somehow got lost amidst the details and contentious arguments that arose after the first election.

 

The question that forms the background of many conversations (whether about politics or the most recent grenade attacks) is whether Burundi can survive the elections without descending into chaos, which is a little like being happy with a restaurant meal because you didn't die of poisoning.

I have been thinking of the comparison between the long Quaker tradition of consensus-based decision-making, which aims to draw all people involved into a genuine dialogue, and the past few weeks of vicious claims and counter-claims made by the political parties here, or for that matter, of political campaigns in the US. In one process, participants ponder the perspective of other people, consider what they might be willing to give up, think about how they might be wrong or biased, and ultimately there is a genuine attempt to find common ground on which to move forward. In the other, in theory there are competing policy platforms and candidates put forward, from which a well-informed electorate makes a choice, but in practice, the actual issues drop out of view and it begins to sound rather like young children arguing over who stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

 

On the brighter side, the National Independent Electoral Commission has confirmed that there is at least one other party that will participate in the next round of elections coming up in July. Depending on who this is, it could make the campaigning and voting process somewhat more interesting. One can only hope that it will be one step further towards a form of governance that promotes the interest of all Burundians.