Magazine article New African

Burundi on the Precipice

Magazine article New African

Burundi on the Precipice

Article excerpt

President Pierre Nkurunziza's re-election for a third term triggered Burundi's latest crisis. As efforts to avert outright conflict continue, Jessica Hatcher gives her impressions from Bujumbura.

'Genocide is not a political game," read a banner Held up by supporters of the Burundi government welcoming a delegation of the UN Security Council to the country on 20th January. The delegation flew to the lakeside capital of Bujumbura to help to end the violent political impasse precipitated by President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial but successful third term bid.

The AU's Peace and Security Council (PSC) is due to hold an historic vote on Burundi at the 26th AU Summit in Addis Ababa at the end of January. Heads of state will vote for the first time on the deployment of an AU peacekeeping force to a country that has not authorised its deployment.

The AU and UN have taken an increasingly bold and uncompromising stance on the crisis in Burundi. "This will inevitably end in disaster if the current rapidly deteriorating trajectory continues," said UN human rights chief, Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, on 15th January.

Al-Hussein's office has drawn attention to evidence of gang rapes by security forces, torture and ethnic repression, suggesting Tutsis are being targeted in the Hutu-majority country. Al-Hussein warned: "All the alarm signals, including that of an increasingly ethnic dimension to the crisis, are currently turning red", and added that a "complete breakdown of public order is imminent."

These statements came days after a leaked note from the UN's head of peacekeeping operations warned the Security Council that the "worst-case" scenario "would result in a scale of violence beyond the UN's capacity to protect."

The government said in December that it would treat a deployment of peacekeepers as an act of war. As the UN delegation flew to Burundi, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the AU Commission, expressed her "fervent hope" that the Security Council team would persuade the Burundi government both to enter serious talks and to lay the ground for the deployment of the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) peacekeepers.

The deployment of the force still needs to be approved by AU heads of state--and analysts say it is possible that the vote is deferred until either Burundi agrees, or the PSC feels confident it can get a "yes" vote.

"In the unlikely event that the force is deployed against the will of the Burundian government, and Nkurunziza orders the army to attack AU troops, it is not at all certain that the Burundian army will carry out those orders. So far, the army has resisted getting drawn into the crackdowns on protesters and critics," said Stephanie Wolters, Head of Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

"There is also the fact that Burundi is part of the military contingent in the AU-led Somalia mission, AMISOM. This deployment has been an economic boon for Burundian soldiers and many feel that if Burundi's continued involvement is threatened by the crisis, this could lead to trouble in the army.

"Were the Burundian army to [oppose] the AU forces, the Burundi contingent in AMISOM would almost certainly have to be withdrawn. There is also a fraternity there with other AU soldiers," Wolters told New African.

The everyday reality for Burundians in the capital is grim. Sporadic violence has gripped the city and rippled across the rest of the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term at the end of April 2015, which civil society opposed. …

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