Burundi protest could delay a return to peace talks

Saturday January 2 2016

Former Burundian presidents Pierre Buyoya

Former Burundian presidents Pierre Buyoya (left) and Sylvestre Ntibatunganya in discussions with US diplomats Thomas Perriello (right) and Berennan M. Gilmore during the inter-Burundi talks at State House Entebbe on December 28, 2015. PHOTO | STEPHEN WANDERA 

By Fred Oluoch and Havyarimana Moses

Doubts have surfaced over the resumption of the intra-Burundi dialogue on January 6, as the government pushes for a homegrown initiative, amid protests at what it considers external interference in its domestic affairs.

The African Union is considering what sanctions it can impose on Burundi after the government refused to allow the deployment of 5,000 peacekeeping troops to the country, with President Pierre Nkurunziza saying he would attack the force if it were deployed against the will of Parliament.

READ: Nkurunziza threatens to fight African peacekeepers
Progress on the talks at the height of the dispute over the troops had been seen as the AU’s way of saving face, but the government’s insistence that it will not engage with parties it believes plotted the aborted coup in May could cause a further breaking of ranks.

The intra-Burundi dialogue that was relaunched last week at State House, Entebbe, under the leadership of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, ended in a stalemate as both sides issued conditions to be met before the talks — scheduled for Arusha in Tanzania — resume.

This comes as the AU threatens sanctions against the rival groups who fail to attend the peace talks, even as the continental body puts pressure on the government to allow the deployment of the peacekeepers.

Govt concerns

In Entebbe, mediators for President Nkurunziza’s government complained that there was no clear definition of who is supposed to participate from the opposition side, and that some of the participating parties were either not recognised by the Burundian laws or are those that organised the attempted coup.

“Organisations that are not recognised by Burundian law were invited to the dialogue that represented all Burundian opposition parties. The government of Burundi also had concerns about the women and civil society organisations representatives,” said President Nkurunziza after the Entebbe talks ended in a stalemate.

The president did not hide his preference for the Intra -Burundi Dialogue Commission (CNDI) which he initiated in December, and called upon the international community to respect it. The 15-member group comprises three religious leaders, three political actors and two from various civil society organisations.

On the other hand, the opposition in Entebbe demanded the deployment of an international peacekeeping force, amendment of Article 129 of the Constitution to allow political parties with less than five per cent of the vote to have positions in government, and end corruption, equal distribution of resources, disarming the pro-government militia Imbonerakure and an end the political violence.

Yet in Entebbe, the government’s main agenda was the exclusion of the National Council for the Restoration of Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law (CNARED) that was formed in Addis Ababa in August, and would rather the registered opposition from various political parties be invited to participate in the dialogue.

“The so-called opposition outside the country, we know them, their arrest warrants have already been issued. They need to be arrested and prosecuted for the crimes they committed, and not be brought to the dialogue,” said the President.

CNARED includes former presidents, civil society leaders, former second vice president Gervais Rufyikiri, and former Speaker of parliament Pie Ntavyohanyuma who defected to Belgium last June and July respectively in a push to form a united front against Nkurunziza’s government.

The Chair of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had on Wednesday warned of sanctions against those who jeopardise the dialogue by refusing to respond to the invitation of the mediator, if violence continues and the Intra-Burundi Dialogue stalls.

However, the AU will have to wait till its January summit to take action against Burundi. 

While Article 23(2) of the AU Constitutive Act provides for the imposition of sanctions against a member state that fails to comply with the decisions and policies of the African Union, the nature of sanctions against the affected state can only be determined by the Assembly of Heads of State.

Agenda 2016
Nevertheless, the turn of the year will see a major standoff between AU and Burundi, which has defied the resolution by the Peace and Security Council to deploy the 5,000 troops.

President Nkurunziza has vowed to fight the peacekeepers as an “invasion force,” despite the law providing the right of the AU to intervene in a member state in order to restore peace and security in grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Ms Dlamini-Zuma has written to the UN Security Council asking for support and authorisation for the forces’ deployment, while President Nkurunziza maintains that Burundi is simply facing a security problem and there is no need to outside intervention because it is not genocide or political issue.

The Burundian government is optimistic that the UN Security Council will not vote for the deployment, hoping that Russia and China will use their veto power.