What next for Rwanda and Burundi relations?
Posted Monday, January 2 2017 at 16:59
- Rwanda seems to be avoiding a backlash from the international community by keeping out of the Burundian crisis, having at some point found itself in the spotlight over its alleged support for opposition elements. Kigali vehemently denied backing the rebels.
- There is little prospect of détente, with Bujumbura insisting that peace talks can only proceed if all countries hosting opposition members fighting the government, including Rwanda, ask them to leave.
The year 2016 is ending with relations between Rwanda and Burundi at an all-time low. Kigali says it wants to stay away from the crisis in Burundi but Bujumbura maintains its accusations of meddling against its neighbour.
There is little prospect of détente, with Bujumbura insisting that peace talks can only proceed if all countries hosting opposition members fighting the government, including Rwanda, ask them to leave.
Talks between President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government and the opposition to resolve the political crisis that began in April 2015 have collapsed several times and are set to resume soon, but opposition groups want the facilitator Benjamin Mkapa to step down.
Early December, Mr Mkapa made remarks that seemed to legitimise President Nkurunziza as the elected leader of the country, angering exiled opposition groups, which called for his resignation and asked the United Nations to take over.
Rwanda, on the other hand, while not indifferent to the situation in Burundi, has been careful to maintain a healthy distance, with President Paul Kagame stating that the issues in Burundi are not his “primary concern.”
President Kagame, weighing in on the ongoing process, dismissed the demand by Burundian authorities to kick out the exiled opposition leaders and faulted Mr Mkapa for not briefing the EAC Heads of State Summit on the matter.
“If this had come up as a way of briefing the leaders as to what progress has been made or lack of it, it would have certainly been better,” President Kagame said at his end of year press conference.
On repatriating refugees, which Burundi says include people opposing the government, President Kagame said it would mean also asking the between 80,000 and 90,000 refugees who fled the country to return home.
“We would be very happy to return these people… , if only at the same time we are not going to be accused of other things. So more clarity has be to shed on this so that we know what we can do together as a region in facilitating the solution to the problems in Burundi,” the Rwanda leader said.
He added: “What we stand ready for as Rwanda is to contribute to Burundi’s resolution of the problems there; like any other neighbour where we are expected to make positive contribution.”
Rwanda has taken a back seat in as far as the situation in Burundi is concerned, after Bujumbura levelled accusations of Kigali backing rebels plotting against President Nkurunziza’s government.
Burundian officials continued to express animosity towards Kigali throughout 2016, characterised by protests in front of the Rwandan mission in Bujumbura and a subsequent decision by Burundi to ban exports to Rwanda, mainly food stuffs.