(Bloomberg) -- Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s pledge to undertake wholesale reform has raised hopes the East African nation is emerging from the turmoil of his late predecessor’s authoritarian rule.
Ndayishimiye has spoken of overhauling the economic and political landscape and opening up the landlocked country that was reduced to an international pariah during Pierre Nkurunziza’s 15-year stranglehold on power.
Unlike the reclusive Nkurunziza, the former army general who became president on June 18 has received diplomats from erstwhile colonial ruler Belgium, France and the U.S. The International Organization of La Francophonie is set to resume ties after suspending multilateral programs in 2016.
Ndayishimiye has moved to curtail the activities of the Imbonerakure, the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s much feared youth league, which Human Rights Watch says is responsible for widespread abuses, often in collusion with local officials, police and national intelligence.
Several Imbonerakure officials have been charged with violating human rights and residents encouraged to report misdeeds. Government officials are now required to declare their assets as part of a drive to eliminate state corruption.
Burundi’s return to the international fold could provide a measure of stability to the region. The coffee producer that counts Starbucks Corp. among its customers lies in the heart of the Great Lakes area, which includes Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi.
Military officials from Burundi and northern neighbor Rwanda met on Wednesday to discuss security issues and the repatriation of refugees. Thousands of Burundians fled there after an attempted coup in 2015 that was sparked by Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in office.
Rwanda, which suffered a genocide in 1994, accuses Burundi of hosting rebels operating against the government of President Paul Kagame. Both countries and Uganda, further north, have been involved in conflicts in western neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the 1990s.
Still, there are fears that Ndayishimiye’s overtures are superficial.
Nkurunziza’s hand-picked successor won a disputed May 20 election that followed months of violence and was sworn in more than a month earlier than planned, following the former president’s sudden death from a heart attack on June 8. Lawmakers from the ruling CNDD–FDD selected new parliamentary leaders in a vote that excluded the government’s opponents.
Marguerite Barankitse, a human rights activist who fled to Rwanda after she was accused of involvement in the failed 2015 coup, says many of her accusers still hold high-ranking positions in the new government.
The opposition National Council for Liberty, whose leader Agathon Rwasa was the runner up in the presidential election, says more than 400 of its members, including its election observers, remain in detention on false charges.
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