Members of the CNDD-FDD youth wing. Some are accused of terrorising people across the country. Courtesy of IRIN

‘Why aren’t we able to learn from the past?’, ‘Why do we continue to be manipulated and exploited for purposes of sectarian interests and political divisions?’, ‘When will the Burundian young people wake up and take notice of the recurring traps placed in society?'

These were some of the questions raised by seven Burundian youth organisations, including the Forum for Awareness and Development, the Inter-University Forum, Fontaine Isoko Association JAMMA, Youth Department of Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile, Association of Girl Scouts of Burundi and Action for Peace and Development, on the International Day of Youth, mid-August.

As the country celebrates its fiftieth anniversary of independence, these organisations were exasperated by the continuous manipulation and lack of maturity of young people trapped in a cycle of political and partisan struggles that benefit only the politicians. The regular reports of intimidation, torture, harassment, theft and criminal attacks are mostly acts of youth leagues affiliated with political parties.  The most famous amongst them is Imbonerakura, associated with the ruling party CNDD-FDD, despite the continuous denial of such allegations in the press by its leader Denis Karera.

According to these civil society youth groups, the long-standing challenges these young people have been exposed to explain this fragility. These challenges include the absence of representation of young people in decision-making bodies at a high level, unemployment, extreme poverty, lack of transparency in offering job opportunities and a very low level of entrepreneurship amongst young people.

Such risks increase the vulnerability of young people in a volatile post-conflict context marked by the persistence of crime in some parts of the country, acts of theft and incessant rumours of rebellion.

These youth organisations were very concerned by the fact that history seems to repeat itself without drawing any lessons. They recalled the exploitation of young people by UPRONA in the 70s and 80s, the youth participation in the killings and violence between 1993 and 1995, the massive enrolment in the regular army and other rebel movements between 1995 and 2002, and today’s persistence of militia groups which show the intention of appropriating the powers of police and justice.

Gordien Niyungeko, Executive Secretary of FOCODE during the youth press conference.

Given this situation, various attempts to bring calm have been initiated. JAMMA started dialogue with Imbonerakure. FOCODE organised workshops aimed at sharing views between youth from different political parties. However, the challenges remain. They are particularly associated with the absence of a recognized framework for dialogue and weak commitment by political authorities who seem to minimise the issue.

Speaking to a group of young peace activists on the International Day of Peace, Pacifique Nininahazwe, former youth leader and now head of the broader civil society coalition, invited young people, regardless of their political affiliations, to fight for their rights (education, employment, representation in various bodies) and ensure that they are on the agenda of political parties. "You must think first and foremost as a young generation before being a member of any political party," he advised.

These pieces of advice are very valuable in the context of preparation of the 2015 elections. Though the onus on responsibility remains with the individual, the role of government, parliament and political leaders is vitally important to ensure the safety of youths and all citizens, stop practices of manipulation and exploitation, improve livelihoods of young people, and impartially and severely punish those who are guilty of acts threatening peace and tranquillity.