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Mission Accomplished? The Evaluation of Ethnic Quotas in Burundi

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The Burundian Senate is currently evaluating the future of the country’s system of constitutional ethnic quotas. In this context, we review the objectives and track-record of these quotas, and provide some thoughts on the current evaluation process. A compromise solution aiming to promote ethnic inclusivity without perpetuating ethnic divisions, ethnic quotas helped reducing the salience of ethnicity in politics in post-war Burundi, but have been evaded and eroded by the ruling party over time. The current evaluation could constitute an opportunity to build a shared understanding on quotas – if it is conducted in an open, inclusive and transparent manner.

The Burundian Senate has officially opened its evaluation of the ethnic quota system on 31 July 2023. In doing so, it is fulfilling a constitutional obligation set out in article 289 of the 2018 Constitution, which gives it a period of five years “to evaluate in order to put an end to or extend the ethnic quota system in the executive, legislative and judiciary.”

This evaluation is significant because it could lead to the elimination of the last power-sharing institutions put in place following the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi of 28 August 2000. The 2018 Constitution indeed eliminated the main provisions relating to power-sharing between political parties, but largely preserved – and even extended to the judiciary – the provisions relating to power-sharing between ethnic categories.

No other country on the African continent constitutionalized ethnic quotas for the composition of its political and security institutions. Assessing the use of constitutional ethnic quotas is, however, relevant beyond the case of Burundi. It can help us to better understand the relationship between institutional engineering – an indispensable tool in any peace mediation initiative – and the termination of recurring cycles of ethnic violence.

In this context, we propose a review of the initial objectives of the Burundian ethnic quotas and their implementation, as well as some thoughts on the current evaluation process.


(Photo credit:  Dave Proffer, Flickr)