By FRED OLUOCH
Lobbying from powerful forces inside and outside the continent forced African leaders to abandon plans to send 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi, contrary to the Peace and Security Council resolution in December.
The EastAfrican has established that these lobbyists convinced many of the continent’s leaders at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January that sending 5,000 troops without the consent of the Burundi government would further destabilise the region, given that President Pierre Nkurunziza had resisted the move.
That means the AU has failed to utilise Article 4(j) of the Constitutive Act, which allows member states to intervene in order to restore peace and security and especially under grave circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Experts on Great Lakes issues told The EastAfrican that it was not surprising that Burundi, despite having lost diplomatic clout due to the political crisis, also managed to retain its seat at the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC).
Burundi was re-elected to the PSC with 38 votes, getting support from most of the French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa.
Central African states fear that the presence of an international operation may heighten the fragility in the region. Besides, they fear there seems to be too many uncollected weapons from previous wars.
However, the incoming AU chairman and President of Chad Idriss Deby opposed the decision by the African leaders not to send troops, arguing that the continent cannot continue to allow people to die in their thousands before responding.
The leaders instead decided to send a delegation to continue consultations on possible deployment. However, deployment must be authorised by the Heads of State Summit and any decision to deploy can only be made in June at the next Summit.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui said that should Burundi accept deployment, the force would be more concerned with protecting civilians, facilitating the work of humanitarian organisations, disarming militias and collecting illegal weapons.
Observers say the deployment is now more remote, given that Burundi’s delegation led by Foreign Minister Allan Nyamitwe made it clear at the summit that the high-level AU delegation would not be allowed to revisit the issue of deployment since the government had made it clear that it is not necessary.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was up to the AU to decide on deployment but that the UN is ready to support the continent in any way possible should it decide to deploy. The UN is expected to fund deployment in Burundi should the AU signal that it is ready.
Signs that the leaders were not going to vote to deploy troops came days before the summit when South African President Jacob Zuma met President Nkurunziza before proceeding to Addis Ababa, after which Bujumbura said Africa is slowly understanding its reasons for resisting deployment.
“We welcome the decision by the African Union Heads of State Summit not to send in the peacekeeping mission in the country without the government’s consent, and our doors remain open for the delegation that is expected to visit the country,” said Burundi government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba.
Meanwhile, a confidential report written by UN investigators in the Democratic Republic of Congo and presented to the UN Security Council, alleges that Rwanda has been training Burundian refugees at camps inside the country with the objective of ousting President Nkurunziza.
The report said the refugees were selected from Mahama Refugee Camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015 and given military training by Rwandan military officers. The report says that the trained refugees are currently camped in DR Congo, where they were interviewed by the investigators.
Kigali has repeatedly denied Burundi’s claims that it is training militias against President Nkurunziza, but has maintained that there are pockets of the Rwandese Intarahame (FDLR) operating within Burundi with the support of the government.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Burundi should solve its problems as a country and not drag Rwanda into its affairs.
“Burundi’s problem is not Rwanda’s. When leaders make decisions they should be able to live with the consequences. We are not insensitive to the lives of Burundians, we just don’t have the mandate,” she said.
In December, a group calling itself the Republican Forces of Burundi, “Forebu” led by former army colonel Edward Nshimirimana, said they had formed a fighting force to oust President Nkurunziza and restore democracy and the Arusha Accord.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its latest bulletin said the total number of Burundian refugees has increased to 239,754, whereas IDPs are now estimated to be 25,081 in view of new data from Makamba and Kirundo, and a new assessment in Rutana.
New patterns of human-rights violations have emerged, including cases of sexual violence, disappearances and torture. Since April 2015, OCHA reports 439 killings, 262 arbitrary arrests, and 263 cases of torture and ill-treatment.
Additional reporting by Moses Havyarimana.