Bu­rundi cri­sis di­vides Africa

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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.

PHOTO: AN­DREW WIN­NING / REUTERS

A con­struc­tion worker stands in front of a piece of street art por­tray­ing prospec­tive US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump in east Lon­don this week. An on­line pe­ti­tion to bar Trump from en­ter­ing the UK re­cently trig­gered a de­bate in Par­lia­ment af­ter it was signed by more than 500 000 peo­ple

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