Last Thursday and Friday, a delegation made of five African Heads of State and of governments met in Bujumbura to discuss the ongoing crisis “with all key stakeholders”. Following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attempt to reach a consensus between President Nkurunziza and political opposition, the delegation aims at deploying an African military mission – despite Nkurunziza’s first opposition to such a mission.
The above-mentioned delegation is composed of South African President Jacob Zuma, his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall, Mauritanian Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Gabonese leader Ali Bongo Ondimba and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. It intended to promote an inclusive approach and therefore meet every stakeholder (the government, Human Rights defenders, military experts etc.) that may help in going out of the current crisis. This visit succeeds Ban Ki-moon’s one, in the backdrop of international and regional efforts to bring an end to the 10-month old conflict. As for him, Nkurunziza promised he would be prone to dialogue with Burundian opposition. As a demonstration of good will, he even pledged the release of political prisoners, except those “accused of disturbing the peace”. Although little information has been disclosed for now, one of the hottest issues has probably been the set up of the MAPROBU (Mission africaine de prévention et de protection au Burundi).
Indeed, Burundian President will likely remain reluctant to accept the deployment of a force considered as an infringement to his country’s territorial integrity, forcing the African Union to postpone a mission initially planned for January 2016. Nonetheless, the AU could have imposed this force even without Nkurunziza’s assent. Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act makes provision for such an intervention in case of serious circumstances – such as war crimes or crimes against humanity. But in facts, no intervention of this kind has hitherto been led in a member State without its government consent. It seems therefore difficult to imagine it could become a reality in the case of Burundi, mainly for political reasons.
Until now, peace talks led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have not been successful. What is more, Burundi has warned it would not “negotiate with certain opposition figures who it considers to be “coup plotters” or “sponsors of acts of terrorism”. According to Richard Moncrieff, the Central Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, the AU should not only incite Burundian government to open consultations with members of civil society and political parties that do not advocate violence (which means most of them), but also put pressure on armed opposition to stop their attacks and review sanctions against those who are hampering negotiation. Only these decisions could lead to an improvement in dialogue and therefore pave the way for the resolution of the crisis.
While waiting for the achievements of the African delegation, although it seems that the only way to satisfy civil society and the opposition would remain Nkurunziza’s waiver of power (which is unlikely), another fact deserves attention: the possible implication of Rwanda in the country’s domestic affairs. As one could see recently, Burundian leader prompted the UN to convince Rwanda to stop its backing to rebels – an indictment firmly denied by Rwandan officials. Early February, US government moved in this direction when asserting that Kigali was destabilising its neighbour by taking and training Burundian refugees. These words followed the release of a UN confidential report charging Kagame’s regime with such deeds. This matter, whether it has any validity or not, has not had to displease Nkurunziza, who could distract attention from the internal situation – at least – for some time.
It is to be hoped that the exit from the crisis is coming soon. For now, according to the UN, around 200.000 Burundian people have fled the country due to violence, including political figures and State civil servants.