Now envoys want AU to take over Burundi peace talks

Saturday June 2 2018

Burundi's security forces hold protestors

Burundi's security forces hold protestors during a demonstration against incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term on February 18, 2017 in Bujumbura. PHOTO | AFP 

By DICTA ASIIMWE
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East and Horn of Africa envoys to the European Union want the African Union to take over the Burundi peace talks, suggesting the international community could be losing faith in the regional bloc’s negotiation process.

The ambassadors’ s recommendations, made recently at a meeting in Kampala, come two weeks after African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat pointed out in a letter to President Yoweri Museveni that the East African Community-led engagement had so far not delivered.

The AUC chairperson also asked President Museveni to stop the referendum to amend Burundi’s constitution, which would allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to potentially remain in office until 2034. More than 70 per cent of voters voted “Yes” in the May 17 referendum.

Mr Mahamat warned that the referendum could trigger further instability in Burundi.

Protests

While both the continental body and the regional bloc’s leaders are smarting from Burundi’s forging ahead with the vote to change the law, the fact that they only offered lacklustre protests has brought into doubt their commitment to a resolution and influence on the leadership in Bujumbura.

The failure by President Museveni, who is the current chairperson of the EAC and mediator of the Burundi crisis to stop the referendum is believed to have partly prompted the call for the AU, backed by the United Nations to take over the process.

“The logic of the way Africa deals with such developments is that regions like EAC are the first point of call. If the region comes to a point and conclusion that it cannot deliver, and I think we have reached that stage, then the African Union should step in, with support from the United Nations,” said European External Action Services managing director for Africa Koen Varvaeke.

The European governments currently implementing sanctions against Burundi’s government say that, if the AU and UN can take up the negotiations, they will provide the necessary practical and financial support for the process to succeed. 

A quick fix?

Uganda’s Minister of State for International Affairs Okello Oryem, however, said that the EAC negotiation process led by President Museveni has not yet failed and that it is only a matter of time. 

“The situation in Burundi, just like the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan can’t be dealt with overnight. Anybody expecting a quick fix is dreaming,” said Mr Oryem.

He added that President Museveni will deliver a peaceful solution to the Burundi crisis, just like he did with the Arusha peace and reconciliation agreement, which was signed in 2000, allowing the country 10 years of peace.

Burundi had been restive for most of its post-independence years, but the Arusha agreement guaranteed two terms for each leader, providing a solution that appeared to work until 2015, when President Nkurunziza decided he would be standing for a third term.

President Nkurunziza’s announcement sparked demonstrations that later become violent due to a failed coup and the involvement of Imbonerakure-the ruling party’s youth wing, which has been accused of murdering and raping political opponents.

Burundi has since been unstable experiencing sporadic conflict, mass murders and assassinations of high profile individuals.

Moral authority

Mr Oryem’s claim that President Museveni delivered the Arusha agreement is however a bit of a stretch, as many other leaders on the continent including South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere were involved.

The team led by President Museveni on the other hand has not received as much backing, since some members of Burundi’s opposition said from the outset that the Ugandan leader lacked the moral authority to get President Nkurunziza to respect his country’s laws.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council also seemed to have misgivings about the EAC’s ability to negotiate an acceptable deal.

The AU Peace and Security Council pushed for the deployment of peace troops in Bujumbura, just months after President Museveni was appointed negotiator.

While this request did not receive enough backing from the AU heads of state, it quickly became clear that President Museveni lacked the concentration, and according to some, the inclination to negotiate a peace deal in Burundi.

This prompted the EAC to appoint former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa as facilitator. President Mkapa was supposed to carry out the negotiations and report to President Museveni and other EAC leaders.

But the process with President Mkapa is not working either, as there have been very few opportunities for the parties in the Burundi conflict to negotiate since the government in Bujumbura has been unwilling to meet some of its opponents.

Asked whether the peace talks will at some point take off, David Miyeye Kapya an assistant to President Mkapa in the negotiations seemed to blame President Museveni for the current impasse.

“Since you are in Kampala, you should ask the mediator. He is the one handling these issues,” he told The EastAfrican.