Report / Africa 3 minutes

Burundi: Neither War nor Peace

After two and a half years of negotiations in Arusha, nineteen Burundian political parties finally signed a peace agreement on 28 August 2000, in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton and of many regional Heads of State.

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Executive Summary

On 28 August 2000 nineteen parties to the conflict in Burundi signed a peace agreement in Arusha in the presence of several regional heads of state and U.S. President Bill Clinton. But the accord, which was rushed through under pressure from Nelson Mandela, does not include a cease-fire. The main rebel chiefs, who have become an integral part of President Kabila's staff in the DRC could not be persuaded to participate in the Arusha peace process. In fact, since August 2000, Burundi has been experiencing a dramatic upsurge of violence and the life of its people has not been changed in any way by the signing of the accord. Last September the regional heads of state, wearied by the failure of their talks with the rebels, gave the latter an ultimatum and threatened them with sanctions. Only three months after the Peace Accord was signed, the hope it aroused is dwindling and giving way to a dangerous uncertainty and to a revival of the military option, this time at regional level.

The signing of the accord had one positive result: it closed the Arusha cycle. As it included all political parties but not the main rebel groups, its limits could not be stretched any further. The main outcome of negotiations was that a minimal political agreement was reached, based on a good text, which was detailed and far-reaching and most of which achieved unanimity. Although it certainly is an incomplete document because the main rebel groups were not at the negotiating table, the three completed protocols (I, II, IV) outline a clear and precise action programme which seeks to move Burundi towards reconciliation, democracy and reconstruction.

Nevertheless, the text is weakened by several paradoxes. The Government's signature, which was obtained at great cost and thanks to last-minute concessions by FRODEBU's President, was probably made possible by the fact that no major compromise was reached on the transition and reform of the Army – in other words, on sharing the instruments of power. The novel factor in the Arusha Accord was that it touched upon the question of the Army's role and composition and its relations with the civil authorities. No compromise was made by the existing authorities because no guarantee was given by the rebel chiefs on ending the war.

Despite this reality, it is probably the Arusha Accord which will ultimately legitimise a continuation of the war. In effect, President Buyoya was the winner in the last-minute talks in Arusha, when he obtained significant concessions and he was also the winner at the regional summit in Nairobi where the rebels appeared as 'negative forces'. The man who started off in a losing position, weakened by regional sanctions and forced to negotiate on terms he disapproved of, is now in a position of strength to shape the  peace process. Rehabilitated by signing the document and tossing the ball back into the facilitation court, he certainly intends to take advantage of the hazy interim period to negotiate the transition on his own terms and regain a military advantage on the ground.

Since 28 August, no significant move from South Africa seems to have taken up the momentum which was generated in Tanzania in June 1998 nor suggested another professionally structured negotiating framework. Furthermore, Nelson Mandela is already showing signs of exhaustion. He has delegated a large part of his responsibilities to the South African vice-president Jacob Zuma. Given these conditions, the government has a certain number of tools of obstruction at its disposal. The Implementation Monitoring Committee could certainly begin its work and become the new forum for inter-party negotiations, but its extended composition risks turning it into a permanent battlefield , a micro-Arusha without Mandela. Also, negotiations on the reservations and the late entry of the rebels into the peace process will further delay implementation. Therefore, implementation of the accord could turn into never-ending negotiations, raising fears  that Burundi will be between war and peace for a long time to come. Burundians must, therefore, seize the opportunity this peace accord gives them to create a momentum of change which is fundamentally needed to stop the war.

Arusha/Nairobi/Brussels, 1 December 2000

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