EAC, AU in dilemma over Bujumbura coup bid

Saturday May 16 2015

Burundians celebrate the attempted coup in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015. PHOTO | BARAKAMFITIYE EGIDE ALEX |

Burundians celebrate the attempted coup in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015. PHOTO | BARAKAMFITIYE EGIDE ALEX |  

By FRED OLUOCH, TEA Special Correspondent

The attempted coup in Burundi poses a diplomatic dilemma for other East African Community partner states and the African Union in general.

Both organisations have appeared indifferent since protests started late last month over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a controversial third term.

Despite President Nkurunziza on Thursday regaining control of the country after the coup led by former head of intelligence General Godefroide Niyombare failed, the two organisations still have a duty of saving Burundi from a political crisis.

According to Dr Yolande Bouka, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in charge of Central Africa and the Great Lakes Region, the foiled coup is not an endorsement of President Nkurunziza to run for the controversial third term.

A special summit of the EAC leaders in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday called for the postponement of the staggered elections set to begin month but not beyond August, when the government’s mandate lapses.  

It was the first time the EAC leaders collectively called for the Burundi authorities to respect the Arusha Accord, even though Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete had in April reminded President Nkurunziza of the need to respect the accord and the national Constitution.

The EAC later on Thursday threatened to suspend Burundi from the regional bloc if the coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza succeeded.

Dr Ben Sihanya, a professor of international law at the University of Nairobi, said the reaction of the EAC leaders was too little too late. He said save for President Kikwete, none of the remaining leaders tried talking President Nkurunziza out of the third term plan.

Diplomatic sources at the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said President Uhuru Kenyatta was just following the Kenyan tradition of supporting the status quo just like in South Sudan, and not supporting unconstitutional change of government according to the AU policy.  

Chairperson of the AU Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma called for an urgent disarmament of all militia and illegal armed groups. She went ahead to withdraw AU election observers.

The AU Peace and Security Council followed with a communique on Thursday, requesting the Commission, in consultation with the East African Standby Force, to consider deployment of an expanded mission to protect civilians and facilitate the cessation of violence.

Burundi is a signatory to the East Africa Standby Force (EASF) Protocol, but director of EASF Chanfi Issimail told The EastAfrican that battalions from different countries could be deployed to Burundi.

He added that EASF, which has 5,300 troops from 10 contributing countries, currently on standby ready for deployed in any country. 

Furthermore, the continental body has found it difficult to apply the African Charter on democracy, elections and governance that deals with situations like that of Burundi. However, the same charter provide that a third term not backed by law is equivalent to a coup.