Bu­rundi casts wary eye on Rwanda

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

KI­GALI — Bu­rundi and Rwanda can seem de­cep­tively like con­joined twins. They share a com­mon history, ge­og­ra­phy and lan­guage, and their pop­u­la­tions are di­vided eth­ni­cally be­tween Hutu and Tutsi. Both were dev­as­tated by some of the worst mass slaugh­ter of the 20th cen­tury.

Since the guns fell silent, they have charted very dif­fer­ent cour­ses as they try to move be­yond their bloody pasts. But trou­ble in one seems in­evitably to spill into the other, and their pol­i­tics are be­com­ing in­ter­twined again, in dan­ger­ous ways.

Bu­rundi is in dan­ger of col­lapse, its cap­i­tal rocked by vi­o­lence and di­vided by po­lit­i­cal in­trigue.

The coun­try’s frag­ile demo­cratic fab­ric has been shred­ded in re­cent months by Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza, who brushed aside a con­sti­tu­tional bar to se­cure a third term in of­fice and put down an at­tempted coup meant to stop him.

As Mr Nku­run­z­iza strug­gles to re­tain con­trol, his top of­fi­cials ac­cuse Rwanda of tac­itly aid­ing his en­e­mies.

Then on Sun­day, a top gen­eral close to the pres­i­dent was as­sas­si­nated, threat­en­ing to fur­ther in­flame a volatile sit­u­a­tion.

The gen­eral, Adolphe Nshimi­r­i­mana, had an out­size per­son­al­ity. He was feared for his bru­tal tac­tics and a linch­pin in the pres­i­dent’s con­trol of his se­cu­rity forces.

He played a ma­jor role in crush­ing protests in the spring, leav­ing scores of peo­ple dead, and was cred­ited with help­ing foil the coup. No one has yet claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for his death.

There is no sug­ges­tion that Rwanda had any hand in it. But top Burundian of­fi­cials say that Rwanda played a part in the failed coup.

“We know that some of the coup lead­ers now live in Rwanda, at least three of them,” said the for­eign min­is­ter, Alain Nyamitwe.

Mr Nyamitwe said the dis­af­fected of­fi­cers, who have called for open re­bel­lion, present a clear threat to Bu­rundi, and he cas­ti­gated Rwanda for al­low­ing them to find sanc­tu­ary there.

He was care­ful to say that there was no ev­i­dence of of­fi­cial Rwan­dan state sup­port for the rebels, but there were many in­di­ca­tions, he said, that Rwanda was be­ing “un­help­ful.”

Rwan­dan of­fi­cials cat­e­gor­i­cally deny that the coup lead­ers are in their coun­try and said Bu­rundi’s prob­lems were of the gov­ern­ment’s own mak­ing.

“When you have a deep cri­sis, look­ing for a scape­goat is nor­mal,” a se­nior Rwan­dan of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity about diplo­matic mat­ters.

Rwanda has con­cerns about how the cri­sis next door could em­bolden another group of rebels who pose a threat to its own gov­ern­ment.

The rem­nants of the los­ing side in its long civil war, a Hutu mili­tia force known as the Demo­cratic Forces for the Lib­er­a­tion of Rwanda, or FDLR, fled to the forests in the eastern part of the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo.

For a while, Bu­rundi co­op­er­ated with Rwanda in hunt­ing the rebels, but ac­cord­ing to the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, that co­op­er­a­tion stopped sud­denly last year.

“We know that some lead­ers of the FDLR met with of­fi­cials in Bu­rundi,” the of­fi­cial said. “The FDLR is a can­cer be­cause it es­pouses an ide­ol­ogy of geno­cide.”

Mr Nyamitwe de­nied that Bu­rundi was as­sist­ing the group and said there was not “a sin­gle FDLR” soldier in Bu­rundi.

Against a back­drop of deep­en­ing dis­trust, the as­sas­si­na­tion of Gen­eral Adolphe, as he was widely known, sent tremors through­out the re­gion.

Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza went on state ra­dio to urge calm, call­ing on “ev­ery Burundian, in the hills and the cap­i­tal, to stay united.”

And the State Depart­ment is­sued a state­ment call­ing “on all sides to re­nounce vi­o­lence and to re­dou­ble their ef­forts to en­gage in a trans­par­ent, in­clu­sive and com­pre­hen­sive po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.”

In another omi­nous turn, the lead­ing hu­man rights lawyer in Bu­rundi, Pierre Claver Mbon­impa, was shot by un­known as­sailants out­side his home in Bu­jum­bura on Mon­day night and was hos­pi­tal­ized in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

The United Na­tions con­demned the at­tack.

Filip Reyn­t­jens, a pro­fes­sor of African law and pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of An­twerp, said that if history was a guide, the cur­rent cri­sis could quickly spread to en­gulf the re­gion.

He said Rwanda and Bu­rundi “are re­ally false twins” that “have al­ways had per­verse in­flu­ences on one another.”

In Rwanda, where Tutsi rebels won a clear vic­tory in the civil war, the Tutsi-led gov­ern­ment “fol­lows a pol­icy of what you could call eth­nic am­ne­sia,” Mr Reyn­t­jens said, by es­sen­tially mak­ing it illegal to talk about eth­nic­ity. But un­der the sur­face, he said, some field re­search sug­gests that eth­nic di­vi­sions are worse now than in the 1990s.

Rwan­dan of­fi­cials call that anal­y­sis deeply flawed and say the coun­try has worked hard to en­cour­age cit­i­zens to see them­selves as Rwan­dans, not Hutu or Tutsi, and to hold per­pe­tra­tors from both groups to ac­count for atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted dur­ing the war.

But in Bu­rundi, there was no clear vic­tory, and peace was achieved only through painstak­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions over power-shar­ing along eth­nic lines.

Mr Nku­run­z­iza, who came from the Hutu side of the con­flict, of­ten points out that in the decade of his lead­er­ship since the peace agree­ment, there has been no eth­nic killing.

Scores of in­ter­views in the cap­i­tal and in the coun­try­side of Bu­rundi sug­gest that peo­ple are aware of the dan­gers of al­low­ing old eth­nic scars to be ripped open.

But out­side ex­perts worry that those vy­ing for power in Bu­rundi could try to ma­nip­u­late eth­nic di­vides in dan­ger­ous ways.

Though many coun­tries con­demned Mr Nku­run­z­iza for evad­ing the two-term limit in the peace agree­ment, Rwanda has no­tably not ob­jected on that ground. In­stead,

Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame of Rwanda said Mr Nku­run­z­iza should not run again be­cause he had failed his peo­ple, a re­mark that an­gered Burundian of­fi­cials. Mr Kagame ap­pears likely to seek a third term of his own, af­ter the Rwan­dan Par­lia­ment re­cently amended the con­sti­tu­tion to al­low it.

Mr Kagame (57) has led Rwanda since 1994, when an of­fen­sive by his Rwan­dan Pa­tri­otic Front rebels put an end to a geno­cide cam­paign by Hutu ex­trem­ists.

He is widely cred­ited with help­ing bring peace, sta­bil­ity and what the World Bank has called “im­pres­sive de­vel­op­ment progress,” vis­i­ble in the spot­less streets of Ki­gali, the cap­i­tal, and the con­struc­tion cranes dot­ting the skyline.

Bu­rundi, on the other hand, re­mains one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world, with a frag­ile econ­omy and a de­pen­dence on for­eign aid for half the na­tional bud­get.

— NY Times

BURUNDIAN Pres­i­dent Pierre nku­run­z­iza ar­rives rid­ing a bi­cy­cle, ac­com­pa­nied by First Lady Denise Bu­cumi nku­run­z­iza to cast his vote for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last month.

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