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What next for Rwanda and Burundi relations?

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Protesters march in Burundian capital Bujumbura on July 30, 2016 to demonstrate against a United Nations Security Council decision to send a police contingent to the country. PHOTO | AFP

Protesters march in Burundian capital Bujumbura on July 30, 2016 to demonstrate against a United Nations Security Council decision to send a police contingent to the country. PHOTO | AFP 

By The EastAfrican Team

Posted  Monday, January 2   2017 at  16:59

In Summary

  • 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.

Throughout the year, Rwanda decided to keep a safe distance from the situation in Burundi, despite allegations targeting Kigali. In November, Burundian officials accused Kigali of being behind the attempted assassination of President Nkurunziza’s top aide and spokesperson Willy Nyamitwe.

Days before the attempted assassination, Mr Nyamitwe had appeared on Al Jazeera TV and claimed that the elements behind a report indicating that the country was on the verge of genocide were operating in Rwanda.

Throughout this, Kigali avoided exchanges with Burundian officials, with Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo stating that Rwanda is not concerned by Burundi’s problems, but would ensure safety on its side of the border.

Avoiding backlash

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.

President Kagame said talks between the government and the many groups are the only way forward. 

“I have no remedy for other people’s problems….even if I had a solution in mind, I want to treat as first and foremost, as not my personal responsibility,” he said, adding, however, that if the issue moves to another level where he can contribute like the Heads of State Summit, he will do so.

A report released on November 15 by the International Federation for Human Rights warned that Burundi was on the verge of the genocide, urging the international community to intervene. Burundi rejected the findings of the report.

“The report, published with the contribution of the Burundi-based Iteka Human Rights League is biased and full of lies,” Mr Nyamitwe said, describing it as “fiction.”

Mr Nyamitwe accused the publishers of the report of “protecting Rwanda,” by failing to mention Kigali’s role. He also pointed out that the head of League Iteka is based in Rwanda.

Florent Geel, the Africa director of FIDH dismissed the rebuttal by the Burundian government, saying that the findings were based on true stories and research done by the organisation and its partners inside the country.

Earlier in the year, Ms 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.

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