Burundi crisis divides Africa
South Africa’s stance on Burundi wasn’t clear at this weekend’s African Union (AU) summit as it became apparent that the country might play a supportive instead of a central role in resolving the current conflict in the east African country. President Jacob Zuma did not mention Burundi at all in his speech to the AU’s Peace and Security Council on Friday night, where Burundi was the main topic of discussion.
A source who works closely with the AU and who was in the closed session where countries stated their position on Burundi, said Zuma spoke, instead, about terrorism.
“It is shameful,” the source said, adding that South Africa was an integral part of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000, which marked an end to the civil war in that country.
Zuma also didn’t give Burundi a mention in the ANC’s January 8 birthday statement earlier this month, despite the fact that popular Burundian singer and activist Khadja Nin attended the celebrations to ask South Africa for help.
On the other hand, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari started his speech at the latenight meeting on Friday with the crisis in Burundi.
Diplomats and analysts said it seemed unlikely that South Africa would be a mediator in the crisis, as it was something the East African Community was keen to resolve itself.
“Tanzania could end up being the mediator, with South Africa playing a supportive role,” an observer said.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane earlier this month told journalists that South Africa would become involved in trying to find a solution to the violence in Burundi, which flared up nine months ago after President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a legal loophole to run for a third term.
Burundi, represented at the AU summit this week by Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe, was one of the top discussion points at the AU summit, after the peace and security council in December resolved to send in 5 000 AU peacekeeping troops.
Friday’s meeting, which ended at midnight, spilled into yesterday, with member countries disagreeing over whether to send in troops or not.
Various diplomatic sources and analysts late this week and yesterday said it seemed like the AU would send in more observers instead of peacekeeping troops – a position pushed by the United Nations and by AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The violence in Burundi seems to have eased off a little after the December 17 decision, while some officials question whether the situation was bad enough in the first place to warrant the deployment of peacekeeping troops – which received strong support from the UN.
Burundi was this week – in a controversial move – re-elected to the AU’s 15-member peace and security council, together with South Africa and Nigeria, which seem to be bidding to become de facto permanent members.
As one of the main crisis points on the continent, critics said Burundi should have stepped aside.
Tanzania’s foreign minister, Augustine Mahiga, however, said it was better to keep Burundi close.
“I think the AU is working on the principle that it is always good to be inclusive, to bring the subjects that are being discussed close, rather than isolate them, and it is in this spirit that the elections of the members of the peace and security council were conducted,” he told BBC World Radio.
“The issue now is no longer about sending troops, the issue is about when and how to have the dialogue between the government of Burundi and the opposition groups,” he said.
He said the matter of peacekeeping troops “may be modified” after this weekend’s discussions.
Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British businessman, in an open letter this week, said the AU’s ability to solve the crises in Burundi and South Sudan was “a grave test of AU credibility, and of the continent’s ability to solve its own problems”.
Pressure group Amnesty International this week claimed to have evidence of mass graves in Burundi, while two international journalists were detained but later freed by the Burundian government.
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