Report 29 / Africa

Burundi: Breaking the Deadlock

The attempted coup d'etat by a group of young army officers against President Pierre Buyoya on 18 April 2001 was a grave warning about the peace process in Burundi. More than eight months after its signing, in August 2000, the Arusha peace accord is at an impasse.

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Executive Summary

The attempted coup d’etat by a group of young army officers against President Pierre Buyoya on 18 April 2001 was a grave warning about the peace process in Burundi. More than eight months after its signing, in August 2000, the Arusha peace accord is at an impasse. Questions that were unresolved at the time have still not been dealt with and the conditions for the accord's implementation have not improved. There is no cease-fire in sight between the army and rebel groups, and the leadership of transition envisaged at Arusha has still not been chosen. Moreover, the Implementation and Monitoring Committee (IMC) seems to be ineffective and incapable of fulfilling its mission.

Nelson Mandela, in spite of receiving the support of regional heads of state and the international community, has failed persuade the rebel groups to renounce violence and accept the terms of the Arusha accord. Far from weakening their position, the death of Laurent Kabila appears to have convinced the rebels to go ahead with their long-planned offensive against Burundi, which remains the weakest link in the anti-Kinshasa alliance. From a situation of “Neither War nor Peace”[fn]"Burundi: Neither Peace nor War", ICG Africa Report N°25, 1 December 2000.Hide Footnote , Burundi is sliding once again towards widespread civil war. Both the army and the rebels are now preparing for a major confrontation.

In the mean time, the political drama continues, with neither of the proposed leadership scenarios of the current president/vice president or ex-interior minister/ex-secretary-general of FRODEBU permitting an impartial or satisfactory implementation of the peace accord. The first scenario is nothing but a dangerous continuation of the status quo, demonstrating the regime’s reluctance to relinquish power, while the second may reflect a real change of head of state, but would give legitimacy to another "institutional deadlock".

With security deteriorating, a humanitarian catastrophe underway, and political fragmentation in both camps, the limited achievements of the Arusha accord are shrivelling to nothing. Although part of the responsibility for the obstruction of the peace process lies with President Buyoya, he is becoming the major target of resentment and faces the real risk of assassination. Such an event would undoubtedly provoke a reckoning between political leaders, and renewed ethnic violence.

It would be counterproductive to press for the implementation of an empty accord. However, the status quo is just as dangerous and must not be allowed to continue, as the war option becomes more likely. A radical change in the management of the peace process is therefore needed.

Nelson Mandela should offer Pierre Buyoya an honourable exit strategy, but must also obtain assurances that the current political-military power structures will be dismantled. A power-sharing agreement should be negotiated, but only between UPRONA (Union for National Progress) and FRODEBU (Front for Democracy in Burundi). All other small political parties should be excluded from these initial negotiations. The agreement should then be sealed with the drafting of a transitional constitution, to decrease the risk of manipulation of the institutions during the transition period. The format of the IMC should also be revised.

A cease-fire will never be established until the peace processes of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are harmonised, especially in relation to the so-called “negative forces”, and as long as DRC President Joseph Kabila and Tanzania’s President Benjamin Mkapa do not engage personally in the negotiations. An agreement to provide incentives to those who stop fighting, and sanctions against those who refuse, should be imposed by Burundi’s donors.

Beyond the region, Nelson Mandela should build a united international position for the resolution of the conflict. Burundi should not be subjected to competition between English and French speaking mediators. Nor should leaders of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL be able to go to Pretoria while CNDD-FDD leaders meet Burundi’s representatives in Gabon’s capital Libreville to negotiate identical issues of a cease-fire and the reform of the armed forces.

Brussels/ Nairobi, 14 May 2001

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