Forgotten: Rwanda-Burundi row

Saturday August 24 2019

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza. Last December, Nkurunziza asked the EAC leadership to urgently convene an extraordinary summit to address the differences between Burundi and Rwanda. PHOTO | AFP


As Uganda and Rwanda took a step towards normalising their sour relations, there seemed to be no end in sight for the bad blood between Kigali and Burundi.

In Bugabira Commune in Kirundo Province in Burundi’s northern border with Rwanda, residents are still blocked from crossing into Rwanda for family visits or to work in farms.

For decades, the Bugabira community on both sides of the border had been integrated, with many intermarriages, but now it is criminal to even attend a relative’s funeral across the border.

The deterioration of relations between Burundi and Rwanda has not only affected the social life but also their economy.

In 2017, Burundi banned the export of fruit and vegetables to neighbouring Rwanda; public transport services between Kigali and Bujumbura were terminated, negatively affecting the incomes of many citizens of both nations.

Travellers between the two cities have resorted to hiring private cars to the border, from where they take public transport to their final destinations.


The two countries’ relations soured in 2015, when protests erupted in Burundi against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a controversial third term in office. Burundi accused Kigali of masterminding the 2015 failed coup, a charge Kigali denied.

Rwanda has accused Burundi of sheltering the FDLR rebels who are accused of committing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Same culture

When asked about the current relations between the countries, Burundi’s First Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo said that Rwanda and Burundi are two sister countries, who “speak the same language and have the same culture. You know, siblings sometimes have misunderstandings,” he told The EastAfrican.

“They (Rwanda) are our neighbours. You can choose your friend but you can’t choose your neighbour, that’s why we hope that the relations will improve progressively because now the situation is calm,” he said.

Mr Sindimwo said that resolving the standoff with Rwanda is Burundi’s wish and that his country would like to normalise the situation, “because Burundi needs Rwanda and Rwanda needs Burundi and that will come progressively. That’s our objective as a country.”

Last December, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza asked the East African Community leadership to urgently convene an extraordinary summit to address the differences between Burundi and Rwanda.

“We want the EAC to intervene because the matter involves armed groups...People are getting killed and it shouldn’t be taken lightly,” he said.

“Burundi does not harbour bad intentions; Rwanda does, and we will continue to say it.”

Kigali has repeatedly denied allegations that it is meddling in Burundi’s politics, with Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently saying Bujumbura has repeatedly provoked Kigali.