To reverse Burundi’s slide toward a devastating social and humanitarian emergency – as ethnically-charged rhetoric worsens and refugees flee to neighbouring countries – the African Union needs to overcome its internal divisions, fix a so far incoherent response and facilitate a negotiated settlement between the government and the opposition.
East African Community (EAC) mediator former Tanzanian President Mkapa organised talks in Arusha, Tanzania 16 Jan between govt and some opposition politicians focusing on presidential term limit and formation of Govt of National Union; he did not invite main opposition coalition CNARED (National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement, Restoration of the Rule of Law), but six members attended individually. Court of Appeal 16 Jan disbarred from Bujumbura Bar Association three lawyers and suspended another who had condemned human rights abuses. Following presidential pardon, govt released over 500 prisoners 23 Jan; said it would release some 2,500 in total. Unidentified gunman shot dead Water and Environment Minister Emmanuel Niyonkuru 1 Jan in Bujumbura. Govt 10 Jan said it would withdraw troops from AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) following EU’s decision to pay troops’ salaries individually not via central bank, but reversed decision 21 Jan when EU agreed to pay via private banks.
The current political crisis has reopened the wounds of Burundi’s past. Hardliners now dominant in the government brutally stifle dissent, fuel ethnic hatred, and undermine the Arusha accord that framed Burundi’s peace for the past decade. The international community should push toward real dialogue, and prepare to intervene if violence escalates.
All is in place for a violent confrontation in Burundi. The failed coup on 13 May has intensified opposition to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s push for a third term in office. After ten years of peace, Burundi is in danger of reopening the fault lines that once led the country into civil war.
The ever-decreasing likelihood of a free and fair presidential election is in growing conflict with a popular desire for change in Burundi. To safeguard the Arusha principles agreed in 2000 to end Burundi’s civil war, the opposition and President Nkurunziza in particular must return to the path of democracy and dialogue.
To avoid a revival of past ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi, Burundi needs to find the right balance between land restitution and national reconciliation.
Unless the government revives land governance reform in Burundi, long-term peacebuilding efforts will remain compromised.
Mobile phones and social media maintain a link between many of Burundi’s constituent parts that appear steadily more remote and disconnected: the diaspora and the refugee camps, capital city and rural areas, Burundi and the rest of the world.
The only thing that's important now, the only card to play at the moment, is to try and convince the neighbouring countries to put pressure on Burundi [to end the escalating violence].
Le discours de Bujumbura est un piège qui se referme sur lui.
C’est toujours la même rhétorique que le régime utilise comme réponse quand il est mis en cause à Genève, New York ou Addis-Abeba
Le régime burundais est en grande difficulté. Et le problème des gouvernements qui arrivent à bout d’arguments, c’est que ça mène à de plus en plus de violence.
Burundi’s 327,000 refugees are not mere victims but also active citizens, many remaining actively engaged in the country’s problems.
Originally published in African Arguments
Unless regional and international organisations act in concert and inject new life into the mediation process, Burundi risks igniting a wider crisis.
When Burundians, and international mediators, finally meet in Arusha, they must remember the lessons of the last hard-won peace process more than a decade ago. The root causes of conflict in Burundi are political, not ethnic, and cannot be resolved by force. Compromise will be necessary, since neither the government nor the opposition have the means to win a definitive victory. Pursuing maximalist positions will only mean more hardship and bloodshed, which will further erode the real progress in reconciliation made since 2000. Genuine dialogue, addressing not only immediate problems but also fundamental political differences is needed to resolve the current crisis and chart a peaceful future for the country.
Threats and harassment have driven journalists into exile, leaving social media to fill the void for those wanting to reach the world and connect disparate groups
Originally published in Jeune Afrique