Mkapa in tight spot amid claims of UK, AU bias in Burundi ‘dialogue’

Saturday May 28 2016
bu talks

Some of the Burundian delegates and members of the diplomatic community at the opening session of the Burundi peace talks in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | SIMON P. OWAKA

The facilitator of the Burundi dialogue, former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, is facing a litmus test in mediating the talks, amid claims by key participants that the European Union and African Union are biased and should be excluded.

Mr Mkapa, who was appointed on March 2 by the East African Community heads of state, convened the first round of talks last week, in which he engaged the stakeholders in his efforts to identify contentious issues to form the agenda for negotiations.

Special envoys from the AU, EU, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the United Nations, the UK, the US, Belgium, some ambassadors and high commissioners accredited to Tanzania also attended the talks.

At the end of the meeting, representatives of nine Burundian political parties that took part in the July 2015 General Election, which is at the centre of the political crisis, cautioned Mr Mkapa against involving the EU and AU, whom they accused of taking sides.

The political parties are Uprona, Forces for National Liberation (FNL), FNL Iragi Rya Gahutu Remi, Radebu, Frolina, Msp Inkinzo Y’Ijambo, Parliamentary Monarchist Party (PMP), People’s Reconciliation Party (PRP) and Piebu.

“Those organisations held meetings with those who support the radical and violent opposition with the aim of sabotaging the efforts of the mediator in finding a solution to the Burundi crisis,” read a statement issued shortly after the meeting.


The parties said the EU and AU want the opposition alliance CNARED, which is accused of being responsible for violence in Burundi, to take part in the dialogue.

But the EU said that the voices of all those who can contribute to a political solution should be heard — including those who did not attend this round.

“The engagement by representatives of both government and the opposition in Arusha opens the way to a credible dialogue among all Burundian stakeholders,” reads the EU statement signed by its spokesperson, Catherine Ray.

EU response

The EU further said that Mr Mkapa’s personal engagement as facilitator and his commitment to protect the principles of the Arusha Accord were critical to achieving this. 

Mr Mkapa said that he would continue and complete the consultations with those who did not come during this session, “but who I feel may have positive contributions to make to the process. I will also consult with the mediator in order to determine the way forward.”

Burundi’s Minister for EAC Affairs, Leontine Nzeyimana, insisted that the Bujumbura authorities would not negotiate with people it alleges were behind last year’s coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza or those it accuses of being behind the violence that has claimed over 450 lives since April last year.

“There is no room for those who will challenge the legitimacy of the government in power in Bujumbura,” Ms Nzeyimana said.