Burundi: Internal and Regional Implications of the Suspension of Sanctions
Africa Report N°3
4 May 1999
On 23 January 1999, the countries of the Great Lakes region suspended sanctions against Burundi. This change in attitude is due to three factors:
The governments of the region are divided over the war in Congo and the conclusion of an effective alliance between Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi against the Hutu guerrillas and their ally, Kabila.
All parties have officially accepted the Arusha peace negotiations and a coalition government was set up in June 1998 between two of them: President Buyoya and the National Assembly.
The international community is looking at the problem in a new light. Burundi is now regarded as one of the few countries at war in the region to take part in an external peace progress and agree to negotiate with a rebel movement.
Since June 1998, donors have clearly indicated a desire to support moves to engender greater political dialogue and to finance extended humanitarian aid. However, the resumption of co-operation is conditional on the signature of a peace agreement in Arusha. As the government is urgently calling for co-operation to resume, it is imperative that it reaches such an agreement.
The agenda for negotiations drawn up by the Nyerere Foundation as intended for donors is unrealistic. It plans a session of committee meetings in March 1999, another in May 1999, then Arusha IV in June 1999 to be swiftly followed by the signature of a peace agreement during the following weeks of summer. There is a real risk of over-hasty negotiations and reforms that will finally be no more than cosmetic. There are many important matters to be resolved before the peace process can be concluded.
Although there are certainly encouraging signs that an internal dialogue is underway, the fundamental changes that must be made have not yet begun. Prudence is called for in regard to respect for human rights and the evolution of the security situation. The war in Burundi is not yet over. Indeed, the major issue that is not being discussed at Arusha is the impact of the war in Congo, which could seriously destabilise the young and fragile peace process in Burundi. Part of the Burundian conflict has been displaced into the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the protagonists are fighting in opposing camps. The alliances formed during this new war are reactivating the military option to the detriment of a negotiated settlement. The marked absence in Arusha of one of the main actors in the war in Burundi, the armed branch of the Hutu rebel movement, leaves its leaders with no other choice than to resort to violence, through which they hope to regain a position of strength.
What hope is there that the negotiations due to start within a few weeks will reach the required conclusion if the representatives of the armed groups are not invited to Arusha and the questions related to the army cannot be resolved? Would there be any validity to a peace agreement that did not succeed in ending the war? In fact, substantial negotiations have not even started yet. Can an agreement be credible if it is not based on substantial negotiations and does not recognise internal divisions ? If substantive and parallel negotiations do not take place, there is a real danger that this peace agreement will not mark the end of conflict.
The approaching post-negotiations transition period is dividing all the parties. This only adds to the confusion already caused by the demands being made in Arusha. The leaders of the Tutsi-dominated UPRONA and Hutu-dominated FRODEBU, the two main parties, along with their satellites, are presently at the centre of a power struggle. For a peace agreement to meet to the real interests of Burundi, rather than merely respond to the official positions of the various parties or to individual self-interest, the process will have to spread out over a sufficient period of time to allow the formation of homogenous political blocs.
As far as the present regime is concerned, how can it successfully continue the partnership and negotiate in Arusha if the security situation is deteriorating? How can it ensure a degree of equity within the context of an economic crisis? How can it marginalise those opposed to reform? How can it re-integrate rebel fighters, the 300,000 refugees and 550,000 displaced persons, and the leaders of the political parties-in-exile with so few resources at its disposal? Even if the lifting of the embargo represents a political victory for Buyoya, it also obliges him to start dealing with the country¡¦s structural problems. These must be treated as a priority.
This extended briefing prepared by ICG field analysts based in the region seeks to map out these and other key issues facing policy makers and asses the prospects for real progress in Burundi¡¦s long running peace process.