Burundi after six months of transition: Continuing the war or winning peace?
Burundi after six months of transition: Continuing the war or winning peace?
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  1. Executive Summary
Report / Africa 7 minutes

Burundi after six months of transition: Continuing the war or winning peace?

Six months after the installation of the transition government, the promises of peace and reconciliation of the Arusha accords have not materialised. The ceasefire negotiations in South Africa, between the government and the various rebel factions, have not produced a single concrete result.

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Executive Summary

Fourteen months after the signing of the Arusha framework agreement, the Burundi transition government was sworn in on November 1, 2001, in the presence of the leaders of Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia, Nelson Mandela and a host of other African and international delegations[fn]Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, Zambian president Frederic T. Chiluba, Malawian president Bakili Muluzi, Rwandan president Paul Kagame, South African vice-president Jacob Zuma and Ugandan vice-president Speciosa Wandila Kazibwe; the Gabonese minister of foreign affairs Jean Ping and ambassadors Berhanu Dinkha, representing the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Aldo Ajello representing the European Union. Other delegations present included Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the RCD/Goma led by President Adolphe Onusumba.Hide Footnote . The new government comprised twenty-six ministers representing majority Hutu (G7) and majority Tutsi (G10) political parties, all signatories to the Arusha accords of August 2000 in Tanzania[fn]The G7 is the group of seven Hutu parties and the G10 the group of ten Tutsi parties that negotiated the Arusha accord. The 19 parties were encouraged to group together in this way by the Tanzanian facilitation team.Hide Footnote . A few days before the swearing-in ceremony, several political leaders, including Jean Minani, president of the FRODEBU party, returned from exile to join the government, after guarantees for their protection were provided by the presence of seven hundred South African soldiers[fn]The politicians given close protection include Festus Ntanyugu at the Civil Service office and Albert Mbonerane at the Communications office (CNDD), Fulgence Dwima Bakana (FRODEBU), Mathias Hitimana (PRP), Gaëtan Nikobamye at the Land Use Management office (PL), Balthazar Bigirimana at Public Works (RPB) and Didace Kiganahe at the Good Governance and Privatisation office. The soldiers also ensured the protection of several formerly exiled deputies and senators.Hide Footnote . The deal struck between Minani’s FRODEBU and Pierre Buyoya’s UPRONA, which was formalised by the accord on the transition government of 23 July 2001, made the two parties by far the biggest beneficiaries of power-sharing. The transition phase was slated to last 36 months, with a mid-term transfer of power in May 2003, when the current vice-president, Domitien Ndayizeye of FRODEBU, will replace the president of UPRONA PIERRE Buyoya.

However, six months down the line, the transition government has not kept its promises and a considerable delay has crept into the schedule for implementing the accord. It took over four months to install the National Assembly and the Senate, two key political institutions in the transition, inaugurated on 4 January and 4 February 2002 respectively. By the end of the first parliamentary session from February to April, the Assembly, presided by Jean Minani, failed to pass the three crucial laws on its political platform: those granting provisional immunity for political leaders returning from exile, punishing the crimes of genocide and other crimes against humanity, and establishing the mandate for the National Committee for the Resettlement of Refugees and Disaster Victims (CNRS)[fn]ABP press release, 4/05/2002.Hide Footnote .

The government does not face an easy task. As well as having to manage the huge differences between the various political parties, it also has to quickly demonstrate the advantages of the Arusha accord to a weary and sceptical public, who expect an end to the hostilities and a return of international development aid. Yet social tensions are rising and the aid pledged by the international community has not yet been released[fn]At the latest meeting of international donors in Geneva in December 2001, 830 million dollars in contributions were pledged to Burundi. See section I-B-3 of this report.Hide Footnote . Moreover, the government’s installation coincided with the resumption of hostilities, characterised by a fresh wave of rebel attacks in many areas and the onset of intense military campaigns, which scattered tens of thousands of people across the country. Violent clashes between the army and FDD soldiers took place in Makamba near the Tanzanian border around 1 November. The first cabinet meeting was held on 6 November, at a time when rebel operations in Bururi province had just claimed over twenty lives and rebels had abducted twenty pupils in Buruhukiro, in the eastern province of Ruyigi, and over two hundred from the Musema School in the northern province of Kayanza.

The question is, how can the war be stopped in Burundi? What should be negotiated and with whom? The army, represented by President Buyoya, signed the Arusha accords on the condition of obtaining a ceasefire. But it is forging ahead with the war in the hope of crushing the rebellion and avoiding the reform of security forces, as provided for in the accord. The champion of the Arusha accord, FRODEBU, is pushing for rapid technical negotiations on ending the hostilities and for the rebels to be integrated into the army, in line with the principles agreed to in Arusha. The FDD and FNL rebel groups, who were not party to the negotiations, are calling for the accord to be revised, and are challenging the legitimacy of those who struck the agreement – i.e. FRODEBU.

The other signatory parties who fared less well in the distribution of posts, see the ceasefire negotiation as an opening that could allow them to improve on their position, and are actively seeking out contacts with the rebel groups. The two Tanzanian and South African mediators who were jointly responsible in Arusha, and the international community as a whole, are tempted to resort to the “Savimbi” method, using pressure and sanctions to force the rebels to accept the Arusha accords and so dispense with the problem as quickly as possible[fn]Jonas Savimbi was killed by the Angolan army in February 2002, after sanctions were imposed on UNITA in 1999 and the war between the MPLA and UNITA had resumed.Hide Footnote .

Pressure is certainly needed, but it will take more than this to broker a ceasefire. So far, all the efforts to achieve this have been in vain, and it is now time to redefine the terms of the debate. This means, first of all, acknowledging that negotiations are not over. Arusha cemented the principles of a political agreement on power sharing and reform, but the agreement is incomplete, and was signed with reservations by the Buyoya government and the G10 Tutsi-majority group. It still leaves room for a broad range of interpretations and most notably does not include the armed rebellion. Secondly, it must be accepted that the installation of the transition government has changed the actors, the issues and the framework of negotiation. The transition government has replaced the Arusha framework, now that the peace process set up in Tanzania more than three years ago and run by foreign countries has been “repatriated”. The government is faced with the task of filling the gaps in the accord by means of rulings and legislation, and of remedying the problems of its application. The moment of truth has arrived for the signatories of the Arusha accord, who must now show that they are all ready to move ahead for the first time in five years without an intermediary. The real value of solutions found to problems that will emerge en route will depend on the level of trust between the new partners and their ability to stay cohesive and forge a common vision. Putting a stop to a ten-year war will be a test of courage and leadership for all the government’s political representatives, a test that will not only have consequences for the future of Burundi, but also for the politicians in future elections.

Part two of the negotiations, focusing on security issues, will take place in an international arena, either in South Africa or Tanzania. This time, not only will the actors change but also the issues brought to the negotiating table. These include debates on security, halting the war and reforming the security institutions. The talks risk revealing the true battle for the control of these institutions and the means of power. At present, President Buyoya has full control over the defence ministry, the budget and the army. For the Tutsis, controlling the army is their guarantee of a regime that they will continue to dominate and which will shield them from possible Hutu massacres. Since 1966, the Burundian army has stood as a symbol of power and the instrument of five coups d’état, including the one in 1993, which triggered the civil war. It stands to reason that neutralising the army and marginalising it from the political arena is an important objective for the rebel factions.

But new Hutu actors on the scene of this important negotiation risk stirring up competition between FRODEBU and the rebels, and among FRODEBU members themselves and the rebels. If this results in the failure to negotiate a cease-fire, it may also call into question political deadlines, especially the power shift due to take place between the heads of state at the end of the first transition phase in twelve months’ time. Unless these inter-Hutu quarrels are dealt with, the government’s grace period and the Arusha accord itself may soon grind to a halt. The temptation to open fresh negotiations is considerable. Those who left Arusha dissatisfied with the accord, both in the G7 and G10 camps, have been neutralised for the time being, but are only biding their time until their moment comes.

Nairobi/Brussels, 24 May 2002

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