Rwanda and Burundi ties getting even more strained

Monday November 21 2016

Burundian refugees at Gashora transit camp in

Burundian refugees at Gashora transit camp in Rwanda. Despite the frosty diplomatic relations, many refugees from Burundi have found sanctuary in Rwanda. FILE PHOTO | DANIEL S NTWARI 

By EDMUND KAGIRE

Rwanda and Burundi remain at loggerheads, with no sign of mending ties in the near future.

Kigali maintains it is keen on staying “far away from the situation in Burundi” while government officials in Bujumbura maintain that Rwanda is meddling in the affairs of the country.

Speaking on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story on Thursday, Willy Nyamitwe, a senior advisor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, dismissed reports that the country was descending into genocide, insisting that the situation was normalising and refugees were returning.

A report released on November 15 by the International Federation for Human Rights warns that Burundi is on the verge of a genocide, urging the international community to intervene and stop it. However Mr Nyamitwe rejected the findings of the report.

“The report published by the International Federation for Human Rights with the contribution of the Burundi-based Iteka Human Rights League is biased and full of lies,” he said, describing the report as “fiction.”

He accused the publishers of “protecting Rwanda,” by failing to mention the role of Rwanda. He also pointed out that the head of Iteka Human Rights League is based in Rwanda.

Florent Geel, the Africa director of the International Federation for Human Rights, dismissed the rebuttal by the Burundi government, stating that the findings were based on true stories and research done by the organisation and partners inside the country.

Kigali maintains that it has kept its distance from Burundi’s affairs, its neighbour to the south.

Last week, Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo said that while the political situation in Burundi is relatively calm, a lot needs to be done to restore relations between the embattled country and its neighbours.

“The situation in Burundi has calmed down, but the problems have not been resolved. The best way for Rwanda to contribute to Burundi’s recovery is to try and stay away from controversies from the country.”

Ms Mushikiwabo said it is unfortunate the situation continues unresolved almost two years after President Nkurunziza’s decision to seek another term in office in April 2015.

Rwanda was drawn into the conflict after Burundian officials accused Kigali of recruiting rebels from the thousands of Burundian refugees in Rwanda to fight the government. Rwanda denied the accusations.

Ms Mushikiwabo said that trade traffic and movement of people between the two countries has been affected, but said the citizens on the Burundian side of the border have been more affected.

“It is probably more costly and more unfortunate for the people on the Burundian side because on our side our people have more opportunities to trade with other countries,” she said.

Earlier this year, Burundi banned exports to Rwanda, citing the need to boost food security locally. However, the ban was seen as a hostile political move to curtail supplies to its neighbour.

There are currently over 85,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda. UN agencies say that at least 150 Burundian refugees arrive in Rwanda weekly.