The Mandela Effect: Prospects for Peace in Burundi
The Mandela Effect: Prospects for Peace in Burundi
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
A Perilous Free-for-all in the Eastern DR Congo?
A Perilous Free-for-all in the Eastern DR Congo?
Report / Africa 6 minutes

The Mandela Effect: Prospects for Peace in Burundi

Involved in a civil war since the assassination in 1993 of Melchior Ndadaye, the first elected president, Burundi is now at a crossroads. Since 1998 the government of Major Pierre Buyoya (who returned to power in July 1996) has been engaged in a negotiation process with FRODEBU, winner of the 1993 elections, as well as with most of the Burundian political groups.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

Involved in a civil war since the assassination in 1993 of Melchior Ndadaye, the first elected president, Burundi is now at a crossroads. Since 1998 the government of Major Pierre Buyoya (who returned to power in July 1996) has been engaged in a negotiation process with FRODEBU, winner of the 1993 elections, as well as with most of the Burundian political groups. This process, which began under the auspices of Julius Nyerere, has been in the hands of Nelson Mandela since December 1999. It finally  seems to be on the point of reaching a peace agreement sponsored by the region and the international community: the most optimistic are talking of the agreement being signed within the next few months.

After three and a half years of isolation for the country as a result of regional sanctions and the suspension of international development co-operation, Mandela has breathed new life into the Arusha process and has put Burundi back on the international agenda. His appointment was a victory for the Burundian government, which has concentrated its diplomatic efforts since Nyerere's death in releasing the negotiation process from the grip of the region, particularly that of Tanzania, which it accuses of bias. The  government has criticised the Facilitation team for the methodology applied in the Arusha process, especially its formation of negotiation groups on an ethnic basis, faillure to take internal dialogue efforts into account and, above all, refusal to allow "dissident" armed bands, the Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye branch of the FDD and the Cossan Kabura wing of the FNL, to participate in the negotiations.

Mandela's first priority is to terminate the Arusha process as quickly as possible. In order to do this, he proposes to conclude work in four committees (nature of the conflict; democracy and good governance; peace and security; reconstruction and development) and work directly on a draft agreement. By his unaccommodating approach to the  conflict and his reminder to the Burundian political class that they must show a sense of responsibility, he has provoked a healthy debate on questions related to an amnesty for those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the integration of rebel forces into the army, power sharing and the transition. He has also put pressure on the government to dismantle the regroupment camps in rural Bujumbura, and to allow the political parties to become active and permit freedom of the press.

His hope for concluding the Arusha process rapidly is founded on the significant progress made since June 1998. Violently rejected by Tutsi public opinion in 1996, the idea of negotiating with the Hutu rebels is now more widely accepted. The great majority of Burundians, tired of the war and of their politicians, do not want to move backwards and lose  what  has  been  gained  over  22  months  of  discussion  in  Arusha.  As for the government, it is confronted with huge social and economic difficulties. It is losing more and more credibility and is strongly rejected by both Tutsi and Hutu public opinion. In addition, the work in committees has produced encouraging results. The debate on the stakes of change and the modernisation of the state and of Burundian society has  largely taken place. The participants have agreed on the setting up of an international commission of enquiry into the massacres that have taken place since independence, especially those of the Hutu elite in 1972 and of Tutsi in 1993, and a national committee of truth and reconciliation. Agreement has also been reached on the reform of the institutions and the principle that elections will be organised, the reform of the army, a repatriation programme for refugees and economic reconstruction. Finally and above all, Mandela has succeeded in obtaining a promise from the FDD and the FNL that they will participate at the next session of Committee III, planned for the end of April.

Nevertheless, with the tempting prospect of rapidly concluding an agreement, it must not be forgotten that the greatest challenge is not the signing of the document, but its implementation, nor that none of the major political compromises expected is yet on the table. In the first place, despite the agreement in principle of all the rebel factions to participate in the Arusha process, a permanent ceasefire has not been agreed. The rebels' entry into the process at this advanced stage in the negotiations is accompanied by the risk that what has been achieved so far will be thrown back into question and  give rise to new divisions or new alliances. In addition, the Burundian conflict cannot be isolated from that of the DRC, which is on an almost continental dimension; nor can the application of the future Arusha accords from that of the Lusaka accords. The tactical alliances between Kabila, the ex-FAR, the Mai-Mai and the FDD on the one hand, and  the Burundian Armed Forces and the Rwandan Patriotic Army on the other, as well as Kabila's strategy of bringing the war to the borders of "aggressor" countries, have raised the stakes in the violence on Burundian territory. It is now essential that the Burundian rebels are integrated into a strictly Burundian political process to avoid the risk of their being marginalised definitively by the Lusaka agreement, which already classifies them  as "negative forces". And even if a ceasefire is signed between the belligerents, the regional instability leaves open the possibility that the two Burundian parties may challenge the agreement and resort to the war option.

In the second place, acknowledgement of the genocide and the amnesty is an issue that still arouses impassioned reactions as the victims and survivors of 1993 confuse the amnesty with the notion of impunity. As a prerequisite to the signing of an agreement at Arusha, certain Tutsi radicals, who have always been against negotiating with the "genocidaires", want to see the 1993 genocide acknowledged as such. They are even threatening to take up arms if their demand is not taken into account. As regards the Tutsi politicians participating at Arusha - who have recognised the crimes committed on both sides and the necessity of enquiries - they are using the reappearance of the genocide issue at this advanced stage of the process as a tactic to block the  negotiations.

Finally, talks about who will lead the transition, and hence the compensation for the  other pretenders to power, have not yet taken place. In saying openly that the present regime must consider giving up power, Mandela has launched the debate on the transition and obliged President Buyoya to put aside his reservations and carry out a campaign in the region and among western diplomats to explain the need for  a "realistic" solution that would ensure a degree of continuity and stability. It might be assumed that the intransigence shown by some on the genocide issue is in large part related to the debate on the choice of a leader for the transition. As the end approaches, and after much opportunistic positioning dictated by the perception that the next government will be decided in Arusha, the parties are finally grouping into two camps: those for Buyoya and those against.

The stakes in this debate need to be set out clearly. It is undeniable that the ultimate objective of the negotiations is that the present oligarchy cedes power now or later and accepts the principle of an electoral process and a changeover of political  power between parties. The real question is to know when and how, for it is absolutely  essential to avoid a new wave of violence in the country. Enough blood has already been spilled on both sides and the fears are real. Yet the Burundian political actors still  hesitate today between the benefits of violence and those of peace, between the continuity of a system or its rupture, between their individual interests and the interests of society

It is essential that the Arusha process should succeed if the violence is to end and if all Burundians are to be allowed to play an active part in the construction of a new, free  and responsible society. Success is also required in order to complete and reinforce the Lusaka agreement and to save the credibility of the idea of negotiations as a mechanism for resolving conflicts in a region in which the logic of weapons and intolerance has dominated for decades.

Nairobi/Brussels, 18 April 2000

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.