Bringing Burundi Back from the Brink
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th December, 2015
Today, here in Entebbe, Uganda, the first round of peace talks aimed at averting mayhem in the central African state of Burundi are scheduled to begin. Given the way that things have deteriorated so rapidly over the past few weeks, especially in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, where dozens of bodies have turned up on the streets, it might have been useful to have convened the talks earlier, but the man charged with overseeing them, Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years, has been busy campaigning for re-election. The crisis erupted in Burundi this April when incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was not stepping down at the end of his constitutional second term, but would instead stand for re-election. There was an attempted coup by a group of military officers against the government the following month that failed, and Mr Nkurunziza was duly re-elected in a poll boycotted by much of the opposition.
A few days ago, the African Union announced that it was preparing a peace-keeping force of 5,000 troops to send to Burundi to prevent more bloodshed. But President Nkurunziza declared firmly that they would not be welcome. Hence the added importance and urgency of the talks here in Entebbe, for which representatives of different Burundian parties have been arriving. The challenge for reaching an accord is enormous as there is a central disagreement: the President’s opponents are demanding that he step down, while he and his supporters are insisting that he will stay. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the peace accord that brought an end to 12 years of civil war in Burundi, in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed. And large numbers of Burundians fear that the country is once again on the brink of such a devastating conflict. At least 200,000 refugees have fled the country, many to neighbouring Rwanda. Unconfirmed reports meanwhile suggest that in Rwanda, some Burundian exiles are preparing to return to their homeland to fight if the opportunity arises.