Photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Unresolved tensions in Burundi

Understanding the legacy of Burundi’s colonial past and the drive for dominion as well as engaging in regional dialogue, is necessary to manage the country’s simmering conflict, says Visiting Professor Tim Murithi, who joins a panel discussion on Burundi on Thursday.

The UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) recently expressed “alarm about the potential threat to peace and security in the Great Lakes region”.

“The Burundi crisis obviously has regional dimensions”, says Claude Ake Visiting Professor Tim Murithi, otherwise based at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town. He joins a panel discussion on Burundi in Stockholm on 20 October, an event co-organized by The Folke Bernadotte Academy and The Nordic Africa Institute. “There are strong historical ties between Burundi, Rwanda and DR Congo that go back to the time before the three nations were colonized by Belgium”. The colonial logic of dominion, control and aggression is still evident in Burundi’s politics.

The crisis in Burundi, he says, has exposed tension between Burundi and Rwanda, and put to the test the relations between Burundi and Tanzania. Given the region’s history of cyclic violence there are concerns relating to the increase in refugees and displaced populations in eastern DR Congo and the wider Great Lakes region.

Burundi has accused Rwanda of harboring ‘coup plotters’, who attempted to overthrow the Nkurunziza regime in 2015, something which the Rwandan government has denied.  FDLR forces which have long been based in eastern DRC are seen as having ties with Tanzania. The FDLR were involved in the crisis Rwanda in 1994, they are an offshoot of the fighting forces that eventually moved into eastern DRC and are viewed by the Rwandese government as a potential threat to its national peace and security. Within the region the Imbonerakure youth militia linked to the ruling party could potentially be instrumentalized to further destabilize the region.  It’s existence echoes the Interahame militia who were implicated in committing atrocities during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Visiting Professor Tim Murithi

The East African Community (EAC) has taken the role as mediator, since all the countries that are implicated are also members of the EAC with headquarters in Arusha. However, all attempts to resolve the conflict at a regional level have so far faced significant challenges.  

“There is an urgent need to advance the regional political dialogue, which is the only way out of the current crisis which threatens to escalate into a fullblown civil war which would have dire consequences for Burundi”, says Professor Murithi and continues:

“This idea of regional reconciliation is a way for us to start thinking about how we can frame the regional political dialogue as it relates to the Burundi crisis but also to the crisis in eastern DRC and the historical conflict in Rwanda.”

At the heart of regional reconciliation is a commitment to recognizing each other’s interdependence across borders, as well as demonstrating genuine good will in engaging in regional political dialogue. The EAC can convene a high-level regional reconciliation summit which will include all of the leaders and societal representatives from countries in the region. 

The failure to recognize the inter-connected nature of the crises in Burundi, eastern DRC and historically in Rwanda means that the solutions that are developed will be incomplete and only half measures. He argues that it is necessary to historicize the crisis, and understand that the borders that separate the countries are artificial and that the configuration of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi could easily be manipulated by political war-entrepreneurs.

“It is important to be aware that yes these states exist but the nature of their construct, in the arbitrary way in which they divide communities, is part of the problem.”

“In order, to move forward it is important to see the legacy and violation that took place in the three countries during colonialism. How the logic of control through dominion, power and aggression which was implanted by colonial powers still remains the core operating system of the nation states in Burundi, Rwanda and DR Congo.”

It is important to interrogate the colonial logic, he says, and introduce a new operating system that uses dialogue and acknowledgement of interdependence to deal with the divisions and atrocities of the past. Subsequently, the only way to achieve sustainable peace is to build upon this acknowledgement of interdependence to drive the agenda of economic development and begin to build a platform for the distribution of the resources of the countries in the region, he says.   

“This can only be done through a leader-to-leader regional reconciliation framework, which will draw in Paul Kagame, Pierre Nkurunziza, Joseph Kabila, Yoweri Museveni and John Magufuli into a common political dialogue.”

To the top