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Burundi conflict: the regional implications

East African Presidents  Photo: Daniel Hayduk/AFP
East African Presidents Photo: Daniel Hayduk/AFP

It looks like  Mr. Nkurunziza has defied both the international community and opposition parties in his bid for an unconstitutional third term.

Apparently, things appear to be getting a lot worse if you read between the lines on the recent Communique from the third Emergency Summit of Heads of State of The East African Community.

I don’t intend to come across as a “prophet of doom”  on this issue, but my analysis would lead to rather pessimistic conclusions.

Just like the second emergency meeting of EAC Heads of State, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and his foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo did not attend the third Crisis meeting, which took place this week in Tanzanian capital, Dar-es- Salaam.

Neither did Kenya and Burundi’s presidents.

In other words; only the host president, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, and appointed mediator, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, attended the crisis meeting.

How are we to interpret the fact that of the five Heads of State in the bloc, only two saw it fit to attend?

It’s either the issue is not one of their priorities, or their behavior is mirroring possible sides in an imminent conflict. Let me explain.

FDLR issue comes up…

Since the uprising in Burundi, Rwanda has suspected the presence of the FDLR (the primary remnant Rwandan Hutu rebel group in the east of the DRC) on Burundian territory.

On 4 May 2015, Rwanda’s foreign affairs Minister urged Burundi’s government “to take immediate necessary steps to ensure the protection of its population, end the worsening humanitarian situation and restore peace…”

Minister Louise Mushikiwabo further said: “We take seriously reports of links to FDLR, the hundreds of refugees crossing into (Rwanda?) daily, and above all the imperative of protection of civilians… While we respect Burundi’s sovereignty in addressing internal matters, Rwanda considers the safety of the innocent population as a regional and international responsibility.”

Regional intervention

This brings me to the recent resolution of EAC member countries to send the joint military intelligence from Great Lakes countries (ICGLR) to “verify allegations of the presence of FDLR in the country.”

If FDLR rebels are in Burundi, we should expect Rwanda’s military intervention to take care of these negative forces.

Burundi’s internal problems are likely to spread into the region, just like what happened in the “Second Congo War” between 1998 and 2003.

Some SADC member countries fought alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo while Uganda and Rwanda were on the opposite side.

Familiar territory

Perhaps I’m exaggerating on this point, since Burundi  is not as rich as the DRC in terms of mineral resources, but political gains and influence may play the bigger part in this likely conflict.

Kagame has external opposition (RNC and allies), which may want to take advantage of Burundi’s crisis and put their feet on the ground to destabilize Rwanda using Burundi’s territory.

Mr. Paul Kagame, who in May this year indirectly blamed his Burundian counterpart of imposing himself in power while citizens don’t need him anymore, has already indicated he’s not in support of Nkurunziza’s third term bid.

While speaking at the 45th St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, Mr. Kagame said; “If your own citizens tell you we don’t want you to lead us, how do you say I am staying whether you want me or not”?


There have been rumors as well that ‘Rwanda is training and organizing insurgents to overthrow the unshaken Pierre Nkurunziza.

The whereabouts of the man behind Burundi’s May 13 coup, Major General Godefroid Niyonambare remains unknown, but some people suspect that he’s hiding in Rwanda and probably preparing a fresh comeback, allied with other former FNL rebels.

The behavior of both countries and the boycotting  of the Dar-es- Salaam meetings raises eyebrows!

Funny resolutions…

The summit resolved among other things that, “whoever wins the presidential elections in Burundi should form a government of National Unity involving those who participated in elections and those who did not ; and should … provide seats for special interest groups.”

Come on, who doesn’t know that the incumbent president is the lone runner for the top seat? Who else will win, after his militias and police killed dozens of people and forced opponents to free the country?

The communique again says, whichever political party wins the presidential elections and all other political parties commit to uphold the Arusha peace and reconciliation agreement and commit not to amend the constitution of Burundi in respect to term limits and other fundamental principles enshrined in the Arusha agreement.”

The Arusha agreement and the Burundi’s Constitution were already tampered with when the ruling party, CNDD-FDD, endorsed Pierre Nkurunziza as a presidential candidate.

Revisiting the constitution

Nkurunziza, who has served his two five-year terms in office, is not allowed to go for a third term, according to Arusha peace accord and the Constitution referred to in the Communique.

So what do they insinuate in this resolution by bringing back Constitutional issues?

They should be bold enough to categorically tell Mr. Nkurunziza that he’s not eligible for presidential race after his two terms!

The appointed mediator, Mr. Museveni, has been in power for the last twenty nine years, and has himself changed the Constitution of Uganda to loosen term limits.

Is he credible enough to bring the Burundi rivals to the negotiating table?

In fact, the whole region faces the same dilemma, as President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of DRC want to dance the same tune as Nkurunziza and their doyen Yoweli Kaguta Museveni.

Can  international community act before the worst comes, and help bring  political stability to the region?

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