How to bring Burundi back from the brink of violence

Protesters run from tear gas fired by police in the Musaga neighborhood of the Burundian capital Bujumbura, on May 13.

Yolande Bouka is a Great Lakes Region expert and is a researcher for Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division of the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi, Kenya. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)On May 13, following over two weeks of widespread demonstrations in Burundi against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in office, Major General Godefroid Niyombare announced in a radio broadcast that he had removed Nkurunziza from office.

The attempted putsch occurred within hours of the president's departure for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he was scheduled to attend the East African Community summit on the Burundi crisis. Niyombare promptly ordered associates to shut down the airport and all borders to prevent Nkurunziza from re-entering the country. As protesters celebrated in jubilation in the center of Bujumbura, what appeared to be the end of the political crisis quickly unraveled.
Yoande Bouka.
Following the coup announcement, intense fighting erupted between coup supporters and Nkurunziza loyalists. Private radios associated with the opposition were set ablaze while the government owned media house remained in control of the army. By the end of the following day, loyalists appeared to have regained control of the airport and of key buildings in the city. Nkurunziza, who is now back in Bujumbura after great mystery and speculation about his whereabouts, thanked his supporters for their loyalty. Thousands of them are now celebrating in the capital, marking a sharp contrast from previous weeks where protesters occupied the city.
    Early this morning, Major General Niyombare officially announced the failure of the coup following the arrest of a number of coup leaders. He is currently on the run as security agents are trying to apprehend him.

    What's next

    While the military coup appears to have effectively failed, observers and stakeholders will have to pay close attention to a number of key factors that will impact the possibility to normalize the situation in Burundi.
    First, there needs to be clarity over the status of president Nkurunziza's candidacy. While international actors have condemned the coup attempt led by Major General Niyombare, key actors such as the U.S. and the African Union have maintained their position that the Constitution should be read within the framework of the Arusha Accord, thereby positioning themselves against Nkurunziza's third mandate.
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    Following this failed coup attempt and brief, yet intense, fighting that could very well have evolved into a full blown war, it is possible that international pressure will intensify for President Nkurunziza to withdraw his candidacy. Upon his return to the national scene, whether the President and his party decide to move forward as initially may lead to sustained tensions.
    Indeed, as secondly, if Nkurunziza decides to stay the course and stay on as CNDD-FDD presidential candidate, protests may resume in the streets of Bujumbura. Reports indicate that civil society leaders have called on protesters to prepare to return to the streets in anticipation that their demand to see Nkurunziza step down will not be met.
    Given that Nkurunziza and his supporters have the upper hand following the thwarting of the coup, protesters may be reticent to put themselves in harm's way.
    Should the protesters retake the streets, government crackdown on dissent will likely intensify and turn move violent than before the coup. This would definitely further engage the African Union and the United Nations Security Council who both held special meetings on the situation in Burundi yesterday. Moreover, escalation of the violence would lead to continued exodus of refugees and further erode conditions for peaceful free and fair elections.

    Durable political solution

    This takes us to a third point, which relates to the status of the political space in Burundi. With or without Nkurunziza as the CNDD-FDD presidential candidate, the country still does not meet the basic requirements for free and fair elections. Most independent media outlets are destroyed or shut down, which raises serious questions about freedom of the press in the country.
    Additionally, during this electoral campaign, just like the one of 2010, opposition groups have been unable to operate freely outside of Bujumbura. Political groups and leaders have continued to suffer intimidation and violence at the hand of the police, local administrators, and members of the ruling party's youth group, the Imbonerakure.
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    It is more than likely that the upcoming elections will be postponed as recommended by the African Union and the East African Community. Indeed, attempting to stick by the current electoral calendar, which sets the legislative elections for 11 days from now, would be extremely difficult given all that has transpired in Burundi.
    Any attempts to hold the elections as scheduled would definitely lose any external legitimacy as the European Union and African Union, among others, have decided to suspend their support to the electoral process until conditions are more favorable for peaceful and fair elections.
    The situation in Burundi remains very fluid and as the country attempts to find the way out of this crisis, international and regional actors will be key in finding durable solution.
    That being said, it is important to remember that any solution will have to have the buy-in of the various Burundian stakeholders.
    As this point of the crisis, only dialogue and consensus will contribute to rebuilding the trust that has been lost between the actors and to find a lasting political solution.