Flown the coup

Well, that attempted coup in Burundi certainly could have gone better for the plotters…

Three leaders of a failed coup against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza have been arrested, his spokesman says.

However, coup leader General Godefroid Niyombare is “still on the run”. He told the AFP news agency that he and his followers were going to surrender, adding: “I hope they won’t kill us.”

The president has returned to the capital after being stuck in Tanzania.

There are conflicting reports about Niyombare (who seems to have cut and run at his earliest opportunity), some saying he’s still in the wind and others saying that he’s been nabbed. The coup seems to have fizzled out while trying to capture the state radio and TV station from forces loyal to Nkurunziza. He, meanwhile, got back over the border from Tanzania into his hometown of Ngozi, then rode back into Bujumbura at the head of a convoy of supporters.

The coup may have flopped, but the issue underlying it, Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a constitutionally dubious third term as President, is still there, and it sounds like people are back in the streets protesting. There’s a problem with trying to estimate overall public sentiment on the basis of crowds of protesters in big cities, something that people tried to do repeatedly back when Egypt was going through its Arab Spring and then anti-Morsi protests. Protesters are evident, they’re loud, they gather in large groups that look impressive, but it’s a mistake to assume that all or most of the people in a particular city who choose not to join the protesters must agree with them anyway, or that people who live outside that city, or outside any major city altogether, would agree with the protesters as well. So we can’t assume that Nkurunziza’s move to stay in office is broadly unpopular, though we know it’s unpopular enough to cause this major urban protest movement and to motivate some disaffected elements of the military to try to force Nkurunziza out. Whatever the people of Burundi may feel though, the fact that well over 100,000 of them have fled this unrest and migrated to surrounding countries is definitely cause for concern.

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