icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Whatsapp Youtube
End of Transition in Burundi: The Home Stretch
End of Transition in Burundi: The Home Stretch
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
Report 81 / Africa

End of Transition in Burundi: The Home Stretch

The considerable progress Burundi has made over the past year in consolidating its three-year transition risks ending in a dangerous political vacuum if strong commitments are not made immediately to the electoral process outlined in the 2000 Arusha agreement.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

The considerable progress Burundi has been made over the past year in consolidating its three-year transition runs the risk of ending in a dangerous political vacuum if strong commitments are not made immediately to the electoral process outlined in the 2000 Arusha Agreement. Such a vacuum can only result in the discrediting and even the failure of the entire peace process and the withdrawal of the former CNDD-FDD rebel movement from the government, which it only joined in December 2003.

The international community needs to help break this political deadlock by providing experts to fine-tune the draft of the post-transition Constitution, by disbursing funds pledged at a recent donors' conference and especially by supporting the implementation of the global ceasefire agreement meant to go in tandem with free and fair elections.

But Burundi's government must also live up to its responsibilities and commitments by adopting the post-transitional Constitution as soon as possible. Lack of political will rather than a shortage of time is the real issue.

The Arusha Agreement sets 31 October 2004 as the deadline for the end of the transitional period, and tensions are growing in the lead-up to this new phase in the peace process. At the last regional summit on Burundi on 5 June 2004, the Transitional Government proposed rescheduling the elections to October 2005. Regional leaders rejected this ploy, insisting that conditions already agreed upon be respected.

Burundi has become much safer, and for the first time in more than a decade, the country could be headed towards a genuine end to the conflict. Since the signing on 16 November 2003 of the Global Ceasefire Agreement between the Transitional Government and the CNDD-FDD movement headed by Jean-Pierre Nkurunziza, both sides have demonstrated total respect for the ceasefire. Bujumbura Rurale is the only province where members of the PALIPETHUTU-FNL still clash with the FAB/FDD coalition.

The PALIPETHUTU-FNL, the sole remaining rebel group in the field, is no longer capable of derailing the process. It has been seriously weakened by the operations of forces under the new integrated high command of the Burundi army (FAB) and the FDD. This offensive and the acceleration of the peace process forced the FNL to declare publicly a unilateral truce on 21 April 2004 and seek contact with the international community. Nevertheless, the group still refuses to enter negotiations with the Transitional Government. At the 5 June 2004 summit, regional leaders imposed sanctions on the FNL, but these will not resolve the issue. Successful implementation of the ceasefire agreement appears to be the only way to push the FNL to the negotiating table.

An integrated military high command (FAB-FDD) responsible for carrying out the reform of the army has been working since January 2004 on a plan to integrate former rebels. The Joint Ceasefire Committee (CMC) has proposed an operational plan (POC) for disarmament and demobilisation.

Both sides have demonstrated willingness to implement part of the plan by separately disengaging and assembling their forces and respecting the ceasefire. But the process is running out of steam because of lack of commitment and funds to carry out the actual integration. Emphasis is on disarmament and demobilisation, whereas integration of former rebels into the national army remains a priority. The World Bank-backed disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) effort faces political issues it cannot resolve over use of donor funding in such programs. The Transitional Government and donors must cooperate to fund the army's return to barracks and quartering sites so that integration can finally begin.

On 1 June 2004, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Burundi became a UN Peacekeeping Mission, an indication that there is now no going back on the peace process. This new mission must support the implementation of the military process and harmonise it with the political process.

Political parties and politico-military movements failed to adopt the draft Constitution at a 12 April 2004 meeting called by President Domitien Ndayizeye, and entrenched interests are blocking negotiations. The UN, under the aegis of the Implementation Monitoring Commission (IMC), must assemble a team of national and international experts as soon as possible to work with local political actors and come up with a Constitution they can adopt by consensus. The international experts should be those who drew up the Arusha Agreement.

Respect for ethnic balance is one of the incontrovertible achievements of the Arusha Agreement, but this should not become a guarantee of the political status quo. By enshrining the concept of ethnic balance while encouraging political debate, Arusha makes it possible to avoid this eventuality.

The international community must renew its commitment to these political and military agreements by insisting on total respect for the framework they establish. The political calendar governing the end of the transition period must, therefore, be in step with that of army reform. This harmonisation of these two processes should be negotiated via a realistic road map that creates a politico-military environment conducive to successful elections.

Nairobi/Brussels, 5 July 2004

Commentary / Africa

De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes

President Tshisekedi’s plans for joint operations with DR Congo’s belligerent eastern neighbours against its rebels risks regional proxy warfare. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage diplomatic efforts in the region and Tshisekedi to shelve his plan for the joint operations.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2020.

Since assuming office in early 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) president, Félix Tshisekedi, has stressed his determination to dismantle the dozens of Congolese and foreign armed groups blighting the troubled east of the country. He has also prioritised repairing ties with neighbouring states, which have historically both backed and fought against rebels in the eastern DRC over various cycles of war in the last two decades. Today, tensions are again mounting among the DRC’s neighbours – between Burundi and Uganda, on one hand, and Rwanda, on the other – potentially compounding the country’s security challenges. Alongside Tshisekedi’s diplomatic efforts to calm tensions, he has floated plans to invite these three neighbours to deploy their armed forces into the DRC to conduct joint operations with Congolese forces against rebels. Yet insofar as tensions among those countries remain high, such operations could pave the way for them to step up support to allied groups even while fighting rivals, and thus fuel proxy warfare. Civilians in the eastern DRC are likely to suffer most.

In line with its December Foreign Affairs Council conclusions that lay out the EU’s plans for re-engagement with the DRC, and to help President Tshisekedi de-escalate regional tensions, the EU and its member states should:

  • Reinforce the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes region, an informal gathering comprising the UN (including both the UN’s special envoy to the Great Lakes and the head of its mission in the DRC, MONUSCO), the U.S., the African Union and South Africa, as well as the EU and several European states that are important donors in the region, such as Belgium, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. The EU and European governments could designate senior EU and other European ministerial appointees to fill the group, over and above the working-level desk officers who normally tend to participate.
  • Use the increased clout this would bring to push for a mechanism whereby each of the three neighbours airs allegations against states they believe are backing armed groups in the DRC and supports the charges with evidence. Allegations can then be investigated by the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (the ICGLR comprises regional states and is a guarantor of a 2013 regional peace agreement; its joint verification mechanism and the UN expert group already have mandates to investigate claims of support to armed groups). Their findings could inform diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions among neighbours and end their backing of insurgents in the DRC.
  • At the same time, encourage President Tshisekedi to shelve, at least for now, his plan for joint operations with neighbours’ security forces.
  • Offer financial and technical support for the national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, to ensure that Congolese militias linked to foreign rebels operating in the eastern DRC have a safe pathway to giving up their fight.

Security Challenges

In recent months, eastern DRC-based foreign insurgencies have escalated attacks on both the Congolese army as well as soldiers and civilians in neighbouring countries. The Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan presidents are all rattling their sabres in response, accusing one another of proxy warfare.

On 4 October, DRC-based fighters killed fourteen people in Kinigi village in Rwanda’s Musanze district. Rwandan authorities blame the Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) rebels. They say the FDLR is working with another DRC-based rebel group, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), which they allege is run by one of President Paul Kagame’s former generals. They also say both the FDLR and the RNC enjoy Burundian and Ugandan support. In a speech, Kagame vowed to retaliate against anyone seeking to attack Rwanda.

After the Kinigi killings, fighters crossed into Burundi from the DRC to launch two separate deadly attacks. Burundian RED-Tabara rebels, whom Burundian officials say are backed by Rwanda, claimed the first attack. No one claimed the second, but Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, recalling Kigali’s support for mutineers in a 2015 coup attempt, blamed Rwanda for both attacks, alleging that Kigali supports RED-Tabara. Ugandan officials, for their part, assert that Rwanda is collaborating with the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel movement with roots in Uganda that is implicated in dozens of massacres in the Beni area of North Kivu since 2014.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other. Both governments have purged their security services of suspected traitors. Rwanda has now also closed a main border crossing into Uganda, suffocating trade between the two countries. Meanwhile, Burundi and Rwanda have dispatched troops to their mutual border while Uganda has deployed troops to its western frontier facing North Kivu. Should these tensions heighten, they could fuel more proxy fighting in the eastern DRC, further threatening regional stability.

Recognising the dangers, Tshisekedi invited Rwanda and Uganda for talks in July and August hosted by Angolan President João Lourenço in the Angolan capital Luanda. They culminated in a memorandum of understanding, signed on 21 August, in which both countries promised to halt “actions conducive to destabilisation or subversion in the territory of the other party and neighbouring countries”. In addition to these diplomatic efforts, the DRC president floated plans that would involve the armed forces of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda conducting joint military operations with Congolese forces against insurgents in the eastern DRC. Absent political de-escalation among the neighbour governments, such operations could pave the way for all three to ratchet up support to proxies opposing their respective rivals. The eastern DRC could again become the arena for a multi-sided melee.

Calming Regional Tensions

In its latest Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on the DRC in December 2019, the EU asserted its readiness to redefine its relationship with the country. This comes after relations between Brussels and Kinshasa cooled at the tail end of Kabila’s presidency, when the EU sanctioned some of his top henchmen in late 2018. President Tshisekedi has expressed an increasing willingness to work with Brussels even as the EU renewed sanctions in December 2019 against twelve of the fourteen Kabila-era officials. In particular, the EU could help de-escalate regional tensions and lessen neighbours’ support to foreign armed groups while contributing to pathways to surrender for Congolese fighters allied to such groups.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours while putting aside, at least for now, plans for those neighbours to conduct military operations in the eastern DRC. The EU’s best bet for pressing for an approach along these lines would be to increase its influence in the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes, the informal group to which it and a number of European states belong. Brussels and other European capitals should commit more senior officials both to the contact group itself and to liaising with the group and with regional governments. Together with the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, Xia Huang, who has recently been instrumental in bringing together the Burundian, Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan intelligence chiefs to discuss their deteriorating relations, the EU should use its weight in the group to prioritise the need for a political solution to tackling foreign armed groups in the eastern DRC.

Such a solution could entail Xia encouraging the three states to lay out their allegations and evidence of support by their rivals to armed groups in the DRC. He could share all information received with the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. The evidence provided by regional states, and investigations conducted by the expert group and joint verification mechanism, could collectively inform diplomatic efforts to halt or diminish support to DRC-based insurgents.

By financially and technically supporting the national DDR process, the EU can also back Tshisekedi’s priority of tackling the plague of Congolese armed groups. Congolese insurgents, many of whom are sucked into alliances with more powerful foreign armed groups, often lack an alternative in the absence of a fully funded DDR program. Under Kabila, the Congolese authorities gave only limited resources to DDR. Several donors pulled out, frustrated by Kinshasa’s lack of commitment to funding a national program. Despite the uptick in attacks in the east, there are signs that some fighters are placing greater hope in Tshisekedi’s presidency and expressing greater desire to surrender. MONUSCO’s new mandate, adopted at the end of December 2019, encourages the DRC’s government to appoint a senior coordinator to lead the DDR effort. The EU could consider supplying this person with the necessary funding and expertise to carry out the mandate.