Within the EAC three countries will go to polls this year. Burundians, like Rwandans and Tanzanians, will go to the presidential polls this year. However, unlike Rwandans or Tanzanians Burundi’s case can be said to be special.
Burundians still have some gaps to cover for the purposes of ensuring better election outcomes. For one Burundi is just emerging from a devastating ten year civil war.
Secondly, due to ravages wrought by war its key institutions are still being set up. A case in point being its electoral commission tasked with overseeing the polls. Regional security and peace is one of the cornerstones of the integration project.
The EAC project is now at the home stretch. Policy makers are talking the language of fast-tracking the project. The main reason is to be able to actualize the remaining building blocks such as the monetary union and ultimately the political union.
While all this has been happening Burundi has been struggling to come to terms within its fragile political system.
Helping Burundi to weave its fragile political fabric is going to be a key challenge which would need players from within the region to lend a helping hand.
What am I trying to say here? My view is that despite peace having returned in Burundi, it will take its citizens more time for them to knit its torn social fabric.
The EAC must take a huge stake in the polls as it must ensure that the country does not slide back into violence. Burundi held its first peaceful elections in 2005.Two years later it joined the EAC, which was actually a very strategic move on its part given its fragile political situation. Thus in response it is very critical for the EAC to assist Burundi to sustain peace and democracy.
Regional media has highlighted some of the key challenges that Burundi faces in this regard. Topping the electoral challenges facing Burundi are insufficient civic education and delays in the issuance of national identity cards and voting cards.
The voters register also needs more resources and expertise. Media also reported that it is only last year that Burundi established an independent electoral commission.
What I am highlighting is that Burundi needs capacity building from the other EAC member states. We need to marshal resources as a community to bridge the glaring gaps before polls are held.
Once Burundi has overseen successful elections then talking about the other components such as the monetary union will seem more relevant to them. If this is not done then the gains registered so far will most likely go down the drain.
Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah is a journalist with The New Times