Why Nkurunziza, Kagame won’t kiss and make up

Thursday October 20 2016

So, is Burundi still a member of the East African Community? And when will President Pierre Nkurunziza stop “hiding” and show up an EAC summit?

Even President Salva Kiir, who presides over the wreckage that South Sudan has become over the past two years, turns up, with his polygamous lieutenants in tow.

Part of the problem is that after Nkurunziza made a third-term grab last year, plunging his country into violence again, and coming close to losing power in a bungled coup as he attended an EAC mediation meeting, he has been wary of leaving his village.

Relations between Burundi and Rwanda have deteriorated, with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of backing rebels. Kigali, in turn, says Burundi is in bed with anti-Rwanda government Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are based in eastern DR Congo where they fled after slaughtering hundreds of thousands in the 1994 genocide.

However, despite this, there is still something unEast African about this.

It’s no secret that in his last years, there was little love lost between former Tanzania president Jakaya Kikwete and Kagame.


There had always been contradictions, dating back to the Rwanda Patriotic Front rise to power, Rwanda’s role in the “Congo war”, and the varying positions the two countries took on the Burundi civil war.

But the resentment came boiling out into the open when Kikwete went to an AU meeting in Addis Ababa, and said Kigali should talk to the FDLR, a matter that remains anathema to the RPF.

Still, it was possible to have Kikwete and Kagame in the same room, without fear that they would end up on the floor wrestling each other.

Thus, the elegant art of East African hypocrisy act is well developed. The first few years after President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, relations were quite rocky with Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya government.

Moi, facing rising opposition at home, was distrustful of a radical Museveni, suspicious that he was helping militant Kenyan elements. In the end, though, Museveni and Moi broke bread and became friends.

The last time the situation similar to the one between Nkurunziza and Kagame existed in an EAC setting, was in the late 1970s. Uganda’s military dictator Field Marshal Idi Amin and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere didn’t get along at all.

In a move that was perplexing at that time, Amin first offered to marry Nyerere.

When Nyerere continued to spurn him, the gigantic Amin, perhaps sensing he had a size advantage, then challenged Mwalimu to a boxing match.

In the end, Amin invaded Tanzania in 1978. Nyerere hit back, and won. Once again, David had downed Goliath.

The question then is how can the ice between Bujumbura and Kigali be broken?

A source tells me Nkurunziza actually is the “moderate” in Bujumbura, where hardliners want confrontation with Kigali and an aggressive anti-Tutsi political platform at home.

The current hostility helps Nkurunziza show he is not soft on Rwanda, and denies hardliners a platform on which to oust him.

In short, it’s in the interest of East Africa for Kagame and Nkurunziza to be on bad terms. So Pierre should continue missing the EAC call.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]