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Why an inclusive inter-Burundi dialogue is inevitable

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Added 6th April 2017 10:40 AM

According to the Security Council report of February 2017, there seems to have been no headway in the dialogue led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa.

Why an inclusive inter-Burundi dialogue is inevitable

According to the Security Council report of February 2017, there seems to have been no headway in the dialogue led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa.

 Dr Charles Kiiza

The facilitator of the inter-Burundi dialogue, Benjamin Mkapa is organising an East African Community (EAC) heads of state summit to put pressure on the Burundi parties to participate in the dialogue which aims to resolve the political crisis, which broke out in May 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza declared his candidature to run for a third term in office.

It seems there are underlying concerns and interests among member states of EAC that the facilitator has got to deal with in order to enlist their full support and commitment to address the Burundi political crisis.

According to the Security Council report of February 2017, there seems to have been no headway in the dialogue led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa.

An immediate issue is ensuring that the situation in Burundi does not descend into chaos and further violence, including ethnically motivated violence. The report further notes that the main issue was finding an avenue for renewed and productive engagement between the Council and Burundi in order to resolve the political crisis.

Why regional leaders should be concerned

The Security Council report acknowledges that the security and political situation in Burundi remains dire. While the number of casualties has declined and the security situation has improved, serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity.

The overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture and arbitrary detention on a massive scale.

Furthermore, these actions are taking place in an environment where freedoms of expression, association and assembly are virtually non-existent. An estimated 325,000 people have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis.

The prevailing political instability has tremendously affected Burundi's economy with a number of businesses closing shop while those still in operation are feeling the pinch of a very low purchasing power among the population.

Not only are Burundians fleeing from the conditions created by the political crisis but also from the harsh economic conditions that in the main have been occasioned by the political crisis.

Trading by, especially the border communities, has deeply suffered on account of Burundi's government directive halting its nationals from selling their merchandise to their Rwandan counterparts. 

In a report to the Security Council on the period since the adoption of Resolution 2303 on Burundi, on July 29, 2016 the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said for the past two years, the political impasse has only worsened.

The space for political dialogue has got narrower because of repression. According to the Secretary General, the exchange of political views, mainly in the form of accusations and counter-accusations, intervenes through social media and communiqués instead of a real dialogue.

At the end of 2016, President Nkurunziza said that he could run for a fourth term ... which could plunge the country into an even deeper crisis. The Secretary General said he was very concerned about this recent statement of the Burundian President.

The adoption of the constitutional amendment contrary to the provisions of the Arusha Agreement in the present circumstances would plunge the country back into an armed conflict with unpredictable consequences for the region.

According to Guterres, the adoption of the conclusions of the August 2016 report by the National Commission for the Inter Burundian Dialogue (CNDI) that cancelled the limitation of the number of presidential terms and other constitutional amendments would go against the Arusha Agreement.

The UN Secretary-General finds that the human rights violations including murders, enforced disappearances, cases of gender-based violence, arrests and arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment, as well as the presence of unidentified bodies are still reported despite a reduction in violence and the drop in the number of armed clashes.

The report further reveals that more than 200 cases of enforced disappearance have been reported since October 2016, raising serious concerns.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has established that there have been 593 cases of violation of the right to life between April 2015 and December 31, 2016 and hundreds of people continue to be arrested each month.

While the violence that marked the beginning of the crisis in 2015 was largely concentrated in the capital and its surroundings, Guterres said that in 2016 problems were regularly reported elsewhere in the country, especially in the provinces of Bururi, Cibitoke, Gitega, Kirundo, Makamba, Muyinga, Ngozi, Rumonge, Rutana and Ruyigi.

According to the report, it seems that the Imbonerakure, the youth militia of the ruling party, are more active than in the past, which fuels the feeling of insecurity and the climate of fear.

Acts of intimidation, criminal activities, ill-treatment, night patrols and paramilitary training have often been reported in several provinces. The Imbonerakure frequently participate in joint operations with the police and intelligence services.

Individuals suspected of human rights violations continue to enjoy total impunity and almost nothing has been done to investigate human rights abuses by state agents or the Imbonerakure.

The Secretary General's report harks back to political speeches that incite hatred and violence. Since the beginning of the crisis, politicians use inflammatory and hateful language in their speeches, in social media, in their press releases and in the press.

This rhetoric is riddled with incitement to violence as well as attacks against the opposition and civil society. Neighbouring countries are accused of involvement in assassination attempts.

The UN chairman also finds that the freedom of expression and that of the press have remained limited. Journalists in the private and independent media have continued to face harassment, sometimes resulting in arbitrary arrests, detentions or enforced disappearances. He, in addition, assumed that the civil society organisations are always subject to that repression and highlights the striking off and suspension of some of them.

The UN chief is convinced that it is urgent to react to the crisis. Failure to intervene immediately, within the scope of a dialogue open to all, would prolong the suffering of the population and we would run the risk of seeing more than a decade of efforts to consolidate peace drastically reduced.

In a letter sent to the UN Security Council on February 7, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, warned of the massive increase in violence that could occur. The qualification of the Burundi conflict of low intensity by certain experts must not blind the international community to many indicators that show that Burundi is running the risk of mass violence today. For Adam Dieng, the fact that Burundi has experienced ethnic violence in the past should not be ignored. Dieng fears that if the current atmosphere of fear and political divisions continues, there could be an increase in violence in which individuals may be more targeted according to their political or ethnic affiliations.

According to Adam Dieng, the concern is sparked by the human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by individuals from the secret services, the Police, the army and the Imbonerakure. The Special Adviser urges the Security Council to take serious actions.

What the Burundian parties should appreciate

While the Burundi government has all the rights not to sit down on the same table with the opposition leaders indicted by the Burundi courts, however, in the interest of peace and stability to prevail in the country, the government has no any other option apart from unconditionally talking to the indicted opposition leaders.

The government of Burundi should find value in negotiating with the indicted opposition as those who have ‘demonstrated' their concerns against President Nkurunziza's controversial third term presidency. By choosing to engage in a dialogue with ‘luke warm' opposition the government of Burundi risks to merely postpone the political crisis, which has seriously affected all aspects of life in Burundi, rather than face the brutal facts by choosing to negotiate with the indicted opposition who after all possess the capacity to destabilise peace and stability in the country. Unless the Burundi authorities will appreciate this reality, there will be nothing serious to negotiate about since it is the very indicted opposition leaders who do present serious and contentious national issues worth to negotiate about.

On the other hand, the opposition leaders have got to approach the dialogue as a united front without which it will be impossible to extract serious concessions from the Burundi government. This ought to be a rallying point to attract support from the international community to advance the region- led- initiative to address the political crisis.  

The opposition also ought to approach the dialogue with a win-win mindset in order to peacefully resolve the political crisis that has moved the country backwards from the modest gains it had achieved in the last 10 years after the end of a devastating civil conflict.

What regional leaders ought to do

The answer to the current impasse in the dialogue is tied to the resolute stance of the EAC heads of state to proactively address the political crisis. The regional heads of state's decision to respond to Mkapa's call could be guided by looking at the Burundi conflict within broader regional dimension of stability and economic interests.

Peace and stability in the EAC is contingent on the prevailing conditions of peace and stability in each member state. Therefore, Burundi's stability ought to be seen in the best interest of all the member states.  

How far can the Eastern African Standby Force (EASF), which has been mandated by the African Union to maintain peace and security in Eastern Africa, go in addressing the Burundi conflict that poses to threaten regional stability?

The peace and security facility (EASF) although operationally ready since 2014 can only intervene based on the collective political will of the EAC heads of state to overcome the impediments occasioned by the doctrine of sovereignty, which has hampered previous efforts including Security Council Resolution 2303 on Burundi authorising a police component to monitor the security situation. The UN and AU doctrine of responsibility to protect could provide guidance in such an endeavour. 

According to the Security Council report, in order to resolve the ongoing crisis in Burundi, steps the Council could take include:

  • Coordinating efforts with the AU and EAC in engaging with Burundi to advance the Inter-Burundian Dialogue and facilitate both the UN and AU deployments in the country;
  • Inviting Mkapa to brief it on developments in the Inter-Burundian dialogue;
  • Requesting the Secretary-General to engage with the Burundian government, directly or by establishing a position of special envoy for Burundi, in order to provide for a greater UN role in the Inter-Burundian Dialogue;
  • Adopting a logistical support package or another form of support for the AU deployment in Burundi;
  • Re-engaging with Burundi on ways to implement resolution 2303, or find a new platform for engagement if that proves impossible and adopting targeted sanctions against spoilers of the political dialogue and those responsible for human rights violations.

As per the look of things, not only should the regional efforts to address the political crisis be actively supplemented by the UN and AU, but by other influential state parties such as China and Russia by virtue of their membership in the UN Security Council and because of their seemingly interested stance in the outcome of the Burundi political crisis.

The writer is an international relations expert on Burundi conflict and a senior lecturer at the Kampala International University

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