Chance for the AU to prove its met­tle

Fail­ure by African lead­ers to in­ter­vene in trou­bled Bu­rundi will be a body blow to ‘African so­lu­tions for Africa’s prob­lems’, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

BU­RUNDI Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza has sucked his coun­try back into vi­o­lence, risk­ing eth­nic civil war and eco­nomic col­lapse by self­ishly de­cid­ing in April 2015 to seek a third term in of­fice.

The tur­moil in the East African coun­try also risks po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial desta­bil­i­sa­tion of the re­gion.

Nku­run­z­iza ex­tended his term in vi­o­la­tion of the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion, flout­ing the 2000 Arusha Agree­ment which ended a decade-long civil war.

The de­ci­sion sparked mass protests, armed up­ris­ings and an at­tempted coup.

In the run-up to the July 2015 elec­tions, Nku­run­z­iza sup­pressed the op­po­si­tion, cur­tailed the me­dia and used youth mili­tias to in­tim­i­date those think­ing of vot­ing against him. Op­po­si­tion par­ties boy­cotted the poll. The AU re­fused to send ob­servers, say­ing the con­di­tions for free and fair elec­tions were non-ex­is­tent.

More than 500 peo­ple have been killed and about 300 000 fled to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries such Tan­za­nia, Rwanda, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda since the out­break of the cri­sis in April 2015.

The UN found that 348 peo­ple were ex­tra-ju­di­cially ex­e­cuted dur­ing July 2015 and June last year by gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity forces or gov­ern­ment-en­dorsed groups. It sug­gests hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions are so grave and amount to crimes against hu­man­ity.

Since the be­gin­ning of his third term, six rebel groups have launched and taken up arms against the gov­ern­ment.

In Oc­to­ber last year, Bu­rundi’s par­lia­ment, packed with sup­port­ers of Nku­run­z­iza, voted to leave the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC). The gov­ern­ment has closed down in­de­pen­dent me­dia and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, sup­pressed jour­nal­ists, ac­tivists and crit­ics.

Hu­man Rights Watch has re­ported that Im­bon­er­akure, the rul­ing party’s youth league, with Im­bon­er­akure mean­ing “those who see far” in Kirudi, the main lan­guage of Bu­rundi, is re­spon­si­ble for ter­ri­fy­ing atroc­i­ties, in­clud­ing killings, tor­ture and se­vere beat­ings.

Land­locked Bu­rundi’s econ­omy shrank 7.4% in 2015. It be­came the world’s poor­est na­tion – from the third-poor­est, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

Last year the EU, the coun­try largest donor, cut de­vel­op­ment aid. In­ter­na­tional donors fund 50% of Bu­rundi’s bud­get.

Rev­enue col­lec­tion has been down, tourism has fallen and in­dus­try ac­tiv­ity has con­tracted. A short­age of for­eign cur­rency has crip­pled busi­ness.

The global prices of cof­fee, the coun­try’s largest ex­port, have been fall­ing – mak­ing things even harder for or­di­nary Bu­run­di­ans. Most of the econ­omy is now largely sub­sis­tence-based.

The irony is that no leader in Africa has per­formed bet­ter in their ex­tended terms. In fact, they have done worse: be­came more brazen, more cor­rupt and more in­ef­fec­tive.

Suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions to end the 12-year Bu­rundi civil war were one of the few suc­cess sto­ries un­der the rubric of “African So­lu­tions for Africa’s Prob­lems”, cham­pi­oned by former pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki and his peers.

The end­ing of the civil war in Bu­rundi was also punted by Mbeki and peers as the be­gin­ning of an “African Re­nais­sance”, and used as a busi­ness case for the New Part­ner­ship for Africa’s De­vel­op­ment (Nepad), the then home-grown blue­print to de­velop the con­ti­nent.

The AU in De­cem­ber 2015 au­tho­rised a 5 000-strong pro­tec­tion force to keep the peace in Bu­rundi. Al­though the AU gave Nku­run­z­iza a 96-hour ul­ti­ma­tum to ac­cept the force, he op­posed its de­ploy­ment.

African lead­ers in the AU were and are still di­vided over whether to put aside Nku­run­z­iza’s op­po­si­tion in push­ing ahead with de­ploy­ing the force – which ul­ti­mately meant the AU backed down.

Some lead­ers clearly fear if they sup­port the in­ter­ven­tion force against Nku­run­z­iza, when they them­selves be­have un­demo­crat­i­cally, a sim­i­lar force will also be de­ployed against them. The real dan­ger is that Bu­rundi will plunge into eth­nic ri­valry again. Bel­gium, the former colo­nial power, de­lib­er­ately cre­ated ar­ti­fi­cial di­vi­sions be­tween the Hutu and Tutsi – who share the same lan­guage and his­tory – as part of its colo­nial pol­icy to di­vide and rule the op­pressed. The coun­try con­sists of 85% Hutu and 15% Tutsi.

Un­scrupu­lous post-in­de­pen­dence lead­ers mo­bilised sup­port along eth­nic lines, blam­ing prob­lems on other eth­nic groups, and when in power, only en­riched their eth­nic group, while marginal­is­ing oth­ers.

Nev­er­the­less, amid the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis the Hutu and Tutsi largely con­tinue to live in har­mony. Many Hu­tus op­posed Nku­run­z­iza’s power-grab; and most of the rebels op­pos­ing the pres­i­dent are Hu­tus. The coup at­tempt against Nku­run­z­iza in May 2015 was led by Ma­jor-Gen­eral Gode­froid Niy­ombare, a Hutu, and former ally of Nku­run­z­iza.

Nku­run­z­iza is a mem­ber of the Hutu com­mu­nity. The gov­ern­ment is dom­i­nated by mem­bers of the Hutu com­mu­nity. Some gov­ern­ment crit­ics have charged that of­fi­cers of Tutsi ori­gin are be­ing moved from key of­fices in the army. If per­cep­tions in­crease that the Tutsi are specif­i­cally sin­gled out for at­tack, this might un­leash re­venge at­tacks based on eth­nic­ity.

The Arusha peace agree­ment that ended the 12-year Bu­rundi civil war rec­om­mended that the army be split 50-50 be­tween the ma­jor­ity Hu­tus and mi­nor­ity Tut­sis. The army was pre­vi­ously dom­i­nated by the mi­nor­ity Tutsi. Nev­er­the­less, the per­cep­tion has been that the former Hutu rebels now in the army are more loyal to Nku­run­z­iza and his rul­ing party, and the Tutsi that dom­i­nated the old army are aligned with the op­po­si­tion.

The good thing is, op­po­si­tion to Nku­run­z­iza is not eth­ni­cally based, but runs across all com­mu­ni­ties. The dan­ger is that Nku­run­z­iza could mo­bilise along eth­nic lines to re­tain his power. The gov­ern­ment has claimed it at­tacks “all en­e­mies”, no mat­ter their eth­nic­ity.

In Bu­rundi, as in many African coun­tries, eth­nic geno­cide is of­ten caused by a toxic cock­tail of deep in­equal­ity across eth­nic, re­li­gious, re­gional or power lines, with pop­ulist lead­ers from one group, blam­ing an­other for the former’s hard­ships.

The gov­ern­ment must rein-in and pros­e­cute mem­bers of its youth league, the Im­bon­er­akure, who are guilty of atroc­i­ties. In­di­vid­ual tar­geted sanc­tions against those re­spon­si­ble for hu­man rights abuses should be im­ple­mented by the UN.

The ICC should launch a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion as soon as pos­si­ble into the post-2015 elec­tions atroc­i­ties. The AU should more strongly in­ter­vene to hold Nku­run­z­iza ac­count­able. If it does not, its cred­i­bil­ity is at stake. Bu­rundi, a suc­cess story of eth­nic rec­on­cil­i­a­tion fol­low­ing civil war, must not be al­lowed to plunge back into eth­nic civil war. A fail­ure by the AU to in­ter­vene in Bu­rundi will be a body blow to “African so­lu­tions for Africa’s prob­lems” and will also sig­nal the sym­bolic end of the African Re­nais­sance and the Nepad con­ti­nen­tal project.

Cred­i­bil­ity at stake if AU doesn’t in­ter­vene

Wil­liam Gumede is chair­man of the Democ­racy Works Foun­da­tion. His lat­est book is

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