For the region, the Burundi crisis is only postponed, not resolved

Sunday December 10 2017

What is surprising is that despite the fact

What is surprising is that despite the fact that there is empirical evidence to show that the approach of “either my way or the highway” pursued by some African leaders in the past doesn’t work, our leaders never learn from it. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYANGAH | NMG 

By CHRISTOPHER KAYUMBA
More by this Author

On November 28, the facilitator of the Burundi peace initiative and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa called yet another meeting to try and resolve the conflict in that country.

Yet, despite the fact that dialogue is the best way to resolve this conflict and the great expectation that accompanied Mkapa’s appointment to the position by the East African Community Heads of State, it would be illusory, under present conditions, to expect him to deliver peace.

Mkapa’s work was made impossible largely by three factors.

Lack of political will

The first is lack of political will by EAC Heads of State and a seeming acceptance by some that since the conflict was only political and not ethnic, President Pierre Nkurunziza held power legitimately despite contestations.

Without strong and unconditional support, Mkapa’s hand was weakened.

Intransigent

The second was the intransigent of the protagonists and incessant push by Nkurunziza’s government to exclude certain members of the opposition whom it accused of participating in the 2015 attempted coup.

Facilitator

The third is the facilitator himself. When he publicly said that Nkurunziza’s government was legitimate despite the opposition’s rejection of a third term, keen followers of the peace initiative knew he had undermined his work and there was nothing else left to talk about.

As Mkapa’s attempt to get the rival sides to talk peace crumbled, two parallel initiatives were also taking place: The internal inter-Burundi dialogue was peppered by Nkurunziza’s manoeuvres to eliminate the opposition and ICC’s decision to investigate and prosecute crimes committed since the violence broke out in April 2015.

What is clear is that unless something dramatic happens, none of these initiatives will bring peace or justice to Burundi in the immediate to medium-term.

With the Burundi government highly unlikely to support ICC, there is no reason to believe that the court’s initiative will achieve anything.

And of course, despite claims by Bujumbura that the reasons it withdrew from the ICC and won’t support it is that the court is a political tool for western powers designed to subjugate Africans, the real reason is fear by the country’s leaders that they could be prosecuted for alleged crimes.

In the meantime, Nkurunziza is already into the third year of his five-year controversial third term. And from what his government and supporters are doing, there is every reason to believe that term limits will be removed from the Constitution and he will be allowed to stand again for the presidency in 2020.

Nkurunziza’s strategy

As it stands then, we could say that Nkurunziza’s strategy has been thus: “Frustrate and kill the regional peace initiative if it doesn’t follow your dictates; then reject international justice under ICC; eliminate internal opposition and pursue power on your terms.”

With Mkapa’s initiative dead, ICC’s efforts frustrated and any meaningful internal opposition eliminated, it’s plausible to say that unless something dramatic happens, Nkurunziza is set to rule for a long time.

Yet, of course, this is unlikely to bring peace especially as things stand, local courts can’t provide meaningful justice nor will those in exile accept endless exile.

That tells us that, for the region and the world, Burundi is a problem postponed set to return in the future.

That might not be surprising for it’s neither the first nor the last that African leaders and the world make such mistakes.

What is surprising is that despite the fact that there is empirical evidence to show that the approach of “either my way or the highway” pursued by some African leaders in the past doesn’t work, our leaders never learn from it.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com