The Peaceful Elections Initiative (INAMA) organizes citizen reporters who use text messaging to monitor local tensions and violent outbreaks leading up to elections and to prevent dishonesty during elections.
Established in 2013, INAMA is a coalition of over two dozen non-profit, non-governmental and community-based organizations in Burundi. It carried out an eighteen-month, three-phase operation to prevent violence and election fraud leading up to the May 2015 parliamentary elections and June 2015 presidential elections. One of those phases, the Early Response Network, was set up in May 2014. Its goal is to train 700 citizen reporters to monitor election-related tensions around the country. INAMA plans to develop a larger team closer to the elections.
Burundi has experienced election-related violence in the past, and in 2013 there was a significant rise in political intolerance marked by provocative messages, youth violence and public desecration of political offices. These events have increased interest in a citizen mobilization for peaceful elections, a tactic that was used during the previous elections in 2010 and was shown to have great potential.
INAMA’s citizen reporters are trained to identify incidents of both violence (intimidation, confrontations between youth wings of political parties, destruction of property, as well as cases of assassination) and peace initiatives (civic education, peace messages broadcasted through the media, peaceful conflict resolution and peaceful cohesion). Using text messaging, they transmit reports of these events to INAMA.
INAMA uses the information from the citizen-reporters to create a database of events, coded by incident type (intimidation, insecurity, peace initiatives, registration irregularities, etc.), on its website. Visitors to the website can view events that have happened and sign up for alerts when an event is reported within 20 kilometers of their location. All reports are verified before they are posted to the website to ensure trustworthiness. The online database currently includes over 400 events, including instances of intimidation, insecurity, registration irregularities, and peace initiatives.
Burundians share a common language and culture and have experience in conflict resolution and community rehabilitation. The country also benefits from a vibrant civil society and relative freedom of the media. Nevertheless, INAMA faces challenges from those less interested in a peaceful election and transition. The presence of armed, sometimes uniformed men in the streets has increased concerns about intimidation and violence. The current government has so far met challenges to its authority with imprisonment and brutality and continues to exchange insults and accusations with the main opposition party. The strength of the civil society movement may not be enough to overcome these challenges.
Due to the close ethnic and social ties between the people of Burundi and the people of neighboring countries such as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, holding peaceful elections in 2015 is important. INAMA’s election-monitoring civil society movement could help these countries improve their own election methods and stability. In fact, Kenya was inspired by the 2010 election monitoring in Burundi to implement a similar program for its 2013 elections, which occurred without any major incidents. Conversely, if the 2015 elections are affected by violence, they could have adverse effects on peace beyond Burundi’s borders.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
As the experience in Kenya demonstrates, using community members to monitor election-related tensions and violence is a tactic that can be used in more than one country. In addition, the community training and technological aspects of this tactic could easily be used to rally support for and call attention to a variety of other issues.