President Evariste Ndayishimiye enjoys good relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo next door. But following accusations that Rwanda is harbouring anti-Burundi insurgents and coup plotters, relations with that neighbour deteriorated severely over the course of 2023. At home, oppressive policies aimed at obstructing opposition continue while the ruling party’s supporters, especially its Imbonerakure youth wing, enjoy near impunity for their abuses. Crisis Group keeps an eye on Burundi’s role in the region’s fraught diplomacy and monitors its internal situation through the monthly conflict tracker CrisisWatch.


CrisisWatch Burundi

Deteriorated Situation

Diplomatic spat with Rwanda intensified with border closure, amid escalating rhetoric and reports of troop build-up along border; crisis is part of three-way tussle involving DR Congo

Burundi closed border with Rwanda amid escalating rhetoric. Interior Minister Martin Niteretse 11 Jan announced decision to suspend diplomatic relations and close all borders with Rwanda over Kigali’s alleged support for RED-Tabara rebels. Kigali immediately labelled move “unfortunate decision” that violates principles of East African Community (EAC) regional bloc, which 12 Jan called for “peaceful settlement” of dispute. SOS Médias Burundi 14 Jan reported arbitrary arrest of at least 38 Rwandan nationals in Mugina commune, and 58 others in Rugombo commune, both Cibitoke province, since 11 Jan; most of them were reportedly repatriated to Rwanda in following days. President Ndayishimiye 21 Jan said Rwandans are “prisoners of bad leaders”. Kigali next day denounced “inflammatory allegations aimed at sowing division among Rwandans”, and President Kagame 23 Jan vowed to “fight” to protect Rwanda. Gitega same day accused Rwanda of recruiting Burundian refugees in Rwanda to join RED-Tabara. In further sign of growing tension, SOS Médias Burundi 25 Jan reported increasing number of soldiers and ruling party youth wing (Imbonerakure) policing border with Rwanda (see Rwanda). 

Authorities intensified clampdown on main opposition party. Interior ministry 17 Jan sent letter to main opposition party, National Council for Freedom (CNL) – whose activities are currently suspended due to govt-orchestrated internal dispute – accusing it of collaborating with terrorist organisation and threatening “consequences”. Move came after CNL 2 Jan co-signed letter sent by platform of civil society and political groups to guarantors of 2003 Arusha agreement, urging them to support agreement’s continued application. 

In another important development. Former PM Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni 2 Jan reportedly lodged appeal after being sentenced late 2023 to life imprisonment on several charges including attempting to overthrow govt and threatening president’s life.

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Onesphore Sematumba

Analyst, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi
Onesphore Sematumba

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