EU pun­ishes Bu­rundi

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

NAIROBI — The Euro­pean Union plans to cut back its fund­ing for Bu­rundi’s lu­cra­tive peace­keep­ing con­tin­gent in So­ma­lia to try to force Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza into talks with op­po­nents and away from the brink of eth­nic con­flict, diplo­matic sources said.

Nku­run­z­iza’s gov­ern­ment has brushed off other cuts in aid from West­ern donors seek­ing a way to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment to stop a year-long po­lit­i­cal cri­sis ex­plod­ing into a new war in Africa’s volatile Great Lakes re­gion.

Bujumbura’s 5,400-strong con­tin­gent in So­ma­lia’s AMI­SOM force — which earns the state roughly $13 mil­lion a year and its sol­diers a com­bined $52 mil­lion — may be the Achilles heel of a gov­ern­ment that wants to keep its frac­tious army happy with the ex­tra pay its troops earn from peace­keep­ing.

Top Bu­rundi of­fi­cers at­tempted, and failed, to stage a coup in May, but the rank-and-file army has broadly stayed above the po­lit­i­cal fray.

“Sup­port for Bu­rundi’s con­tin­gent of AMI­SOM can­not con­tinue as it is,” a Euro­pean diplo­mat said.

For each African sol­dier sent to So­ma­lia, the con­tribut­ing gov­ern­ment re­ceives $1,000 a month for wages and lo­gis­tics, paid for from a pot funded by the EU. In Bu­rundi’s case, the gov­ern­ment keeps $200 a month and sol­diers re­ceive $800 each, a hand­some bonus on top of their much lower reg­u­lar pay.

Pulling the plug on fund­ing al­to­gether was one op­tion, al­beit the most ex­treme and un­likely given Bu­rundi’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay in the force, he said.

Cutting all fund­ing would leave the African Union (AU), which over­sees AMI­SOM’S 22,000-strong force, hav­ing to find an­other donor to pay Bu­rundi’s troops. It is al­ready un­der pres­sure as the EU had cut back its over­all fund­ing for AMI­SOM say­ing it wants other in­ter­na­tional donors to of­fer more help.

A sec­ond Euro­pean diplo­mat said cutting all fund­ing to Bu­rundi’s con­tin­gent was “far from be­ing a re­al­ity right now”, but he said cash would no longer be chan­nelled via the gov­ern­ment and the 20 per­cent kept by the state, worth about $13 mil­lion a year, would be scrapped.

“There is no way we will pay that any­more,” he told Reuters, adding that the EU was con­duct­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the AU aimed at find­ing a mech­a­nism that by-passed Bujumbura al­to­gether.

More than 400 peo­ple have been killed since last April when Nku­run­z­iza said he was run­ning for a third term in elec­tions that he then won and which op­po­nents said was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Two per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — 220,000 peo­ple -- have since fled to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries like Rwanda, which was torn apart by geno­cide in 1994. Like Bu­rundi, Rwanda has an eth­nic Hutu ma­jor­ity and Tutsi mi­nor­ity.

Re­gional African na­tions and the West ap­pear un­able to defuse a cri­sis that in­creas­ingly re­sem­bles the slow build-up to Bu­rundi’s 1993-2005 civil war, a con­flict that pit­ted a Tutis-led army against Hutu rebels, and left 300,000 peo­ple dead.

Frus­tra­tion at the per­ceived in­tran­si­gence of Nku­run­z­iza’s gov­ern­ment has grown.

“They just don’t budge,” said an­other se­nior West­ern diplo­mat. Tak­ing aim at the peace­keep­ing busi­ness had the best chance of “mak­ing an im­pact”, he said.

Op­pos­ing camps have broadly been split along po­lit­i­cal lines in the cri­sis so far but diplo­mats fear old eth­nic ri­val­ries will be­come more pro­nounced if vi­o­lence is left unchecked.

Euro­pean na­tions and the United States have led ef­forts to put pres­sure on Bujumbura with aid cuts.

Brus­sels said on March 14 it was sus­pend­ing di­rect fi­nan­cial sup­port to the gov­ern­ment, af­fect­ing a pack­age worth about 432 mil­lion euros ($480 mil­lion) for 2014 to 2020, al­though emer­gency aid would con­tinue.

To re­sume fund­ing, the EU said Bu­rundi had to free up the me­dia, deal with rights abuses and launch gen­uine peace talks.

It also said it was “ex­pect­ing to re­view and ad­just the terms and con­di­tions of fi­nanc­ing and pay­ment” of Bu­rundi’s AMI­SOM con­tin­gent, but it gave no de­tails.

But while dol­lars are in short sup­ply and busi­nesses in ur­ban ar­eas are strug­gling — the coun­try’s econ­omy con­tracted shrank by an es­ti­mated 7.2 per­cent last year — the ef­fect of re­duced aid flows has not been enough to sway the gov­ern­ment given that much of the pop­u­la­tion are sub­sis­tence farm­ers.

Cutting off peace­keep­ing funds to the army would be a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. With the army’s num­bers es­ti­mated at about 27,000 troops, de­ployed on 12-month tours, few are un­touched by the di­rect cash ben­e­fits.

“Con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent eco­nomic situation, added to low salaries, AMI­SOM has been a sal­va­tion for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies,” said a Tutsi army ma­jor, who asked not to be named.

Based largely on his sav­ings from two tours plus some of his reg­u­lar salary of $312 a month, he built a new house. Threat­en­ing that life­line could spark “ris­ing in­dis­ci­pline among sol­diers,” he said.

Bu­rundi’s army was re­formed af­ter the civil war to in­clude both pro­fes­sional sol­diers in what had been a Tutsi-led force and fight­ers from for­mer ma­jor­ity Hutu rebel groups, in­clud­ing those who were com­manded by re­bel­turned-pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza.

A Hutu of­fi­cer who has served in So­ma­lia ac­knowl­edged that peace­keep­ing pro­vided im­por­tant cash for his fam­ily, but said he would re­main loyal to the pres­i­dent no mat­ter what.

“If mis­sions are sus­pended many sol­diers may be ma­nip­u­lated,” he said. “But not all are cor­rupt­ible.”

African states have been re­luc­tant to turn the screws. The AU threat­ened to send a peace­keep­ing force to Bu­rundi in De­cem­ber, but backed off in Jan­uary when Bujumbura re­jected the idea. Re­gion­ally spon­sored peace talks have stalled.

Bu­rundi has said it can live with­out EU aid, but has not com­mented on the threat to peace­keeper fund­ing.

“EU aid cut doesn’t mean the gov­ern­ment will stop func­tion­ing,” For­eign Min­is­ter Alain Nyamitwe told Reuters.

When asked about the re­view of EU fi­nanc­ing for its troop con­tin­gent, he said: “I pre­fer to wait.” — Reuters OUA­GADOUGOU — A thou­sand peo­ple have fled Ivory Coast to seek refuge in neigh­bour­ing Burk­ina Faso af­ter clashes be­tween farm­ers and herds­men that left at least 17 peo­ple dead, of­fi­cials said on Mon­day.

A se­nior of­fi­cial in the Burk­in­abe prov­ince of Noumbiel, on the bor­der with Ivory Coast, said that as of Sun­day 1 316 peo­ple had sought refuge in the re­gion fol­low­ing the deadly clashes in Bouna, the main town in north­east Ivory Coast.

“Most of them are women and chil­dren,” added the of­fi­cial, who was reached by tele­phone.

“We have put in place a cri­sis cell formed of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and emer­gency ser­vices. We have re­ceived emer­gency goods from Oua­gadougou — bed­ding and food — but it will not be enough to sup­port these peo­ple, who con­tinue to ar­rive.”

The clashes broke out in Bouna on Wed­nes­day last week. Vi­o­lent dis­putes be­tween no­madic herders and farm­ers, of­ten over graz­ing and wa­ter­ing rights, are not un­com­mon, but such a high death toll is rare.

The farm­ers com­plain that their fields are ru­ined by the pas­sage of herds of cat­tle.

— News24

Bu­rundi sol­diers on a peace­keep­ing mis­sion in So­ma­lia. — File

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