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Burundi - nobody to the rescue?

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza at a commemoration for the country's 53rd year of independence. Burundi Government
President Pierre Nkurunziza

It’s almost a given that African leaders meeting this weekend in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will not override Burundi’s objections and endorse the deployment of a 5,000-strong intervention force to help end the violence in the troubled country.

The re-election this week of Burundi to the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (akin to the UN’s Security Council) for another two-year term was a clue the will is not there to call Bujumbura’s bluff over its threat to resist the deployment of the intervention force – known as MAPROBU.

There is general acceptance that the mediation of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, under the auspices of the East African Community, has failed. He has been far too focused on his own re-election later this year to invest the time and energy required. 

The talk is of widening the mediation, for the AU and UN to take a more hands-on role – effectively sidelining Museveni.

The key goal is to kick-start the abortive dialogue between the government and opposition, which was postponed “indefinitely” when Bujumbura’s representatives refused to show up in Arusha, Tanzania, for the start of the talks on 6 January.

“Everybody agrees on the urgency, but nobody is putting anything on the table,” said an African diplomat based in Addis Ababa. “[The parties] need to be prodded, but the prodding doesn’t seem to be happening. Somebody, be it the AU, the UN or other interested parties, need to put down a roadmap around which talks can start.”

Last week a delegation from the UN Security Council visited Bujumbura to urge President Pierre Nkurunziza to curtail the violence that has created 240,000 refugees, and to talk to an opposition he regards as “terrorists” and “criminals”.

But instead, witnesses to the violence are being silenced.

On Tuesday the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that a team of independent experts “mandated to probe violations and abuses in Burundi” had not been allowed to enter the country. Among the issues to be investigated are reports from early December of mass graves.

Two foreign journalists – Le Monde’s Africa bureau chief Jean-Philippe Remy and freelance photojournalist Phil Moore – were detained and then released on Friday. They were among 17 people held in a raid on the Jabe neigborhood of Bujumbura in which the police said a weapons cache was discovered. 

Burundi has been in political crisis since Nkurunziza took the controversial decision to seek a third presidential term last year. Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed since then, amid the fear the country could slide into civil war.

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