Stumbling blocks remain in the Burundi peace process

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Since the return of Agathon Rwasa and the rest of the leadership of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, Burundi's last active rebel group, to the negotiating table on 26 May 2008, the peace process in this country has been proceeding very slowly. After a meeting on 18 August 2008 between the facilitator of the peace talks, Charles Nqakula, Pierre Nkurunziza, the President of Burundi and Rwasa, leader of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, the Ngozi Declaration was signed on 29 August 2008. The Declaration spelt out how the two parties - the government and the PALIPEHUTU-FNL - would conclude outstanding issues as defined in the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement. The parties agreed on the following:

- Speeding up the implementation of both agreements signed in 2006

- The release of political prisoners and prisoners of war

- Conclude on the issue of name and integration of members and combatants of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL into institutions

The regional leadership was mandated to finalise the process by the end of December 2008. There are however still outstanding matters.

Firstly the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL uses a name seen by the government as contrary to the letter and spirit of the constitution. "Paliphehutu" means 'for the Hutu alone' - a struggle therefore of the Hutus against the other tribes in Burundi. In terms of the Arusha agreements, which preceded the Dar es Salaam agreements, the constitution is against the use of anything that would provide a platform for people to visit hurt and injury on others on the basis of tribalism. This issue is looming very large with respect to the finalisation of the final objectives of the peace process, because PALIPHEHUTU-FNL wants to continue to use its name and the government is adamant that it is unconstitutional to do so.

The second issue is what then happens to the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL as a political organisation. Firstly, in order for it to participate in the political life of the country it has to be registered as a political party. As things stand now, the registration is dependent on the resolution of the problem of the name. Participation in politics also means that space has to be created for the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL to participate in the socio-economic life of the country. This has not yet been resolved.

Also, participation in the political life of the country means the integration and insertion of some members of the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL into the decision-making processes. What happens for instance to the leadership? Is it possible for conditions to be created for them to be drawn into the political decision-making structures of the country? Again, it is a matter that relates to the constitution: in order for them to participate in such structures, they would have had to participate in past elections in Burundi, but they didn't. That is why this process of negotiation is taking place - a process that created the situation existing today where the leadership of the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL is inside Burundi and intermittently interacting with the authorities in the country.

The last point relating to this question is of course the matter of parliament itself. The PALIPHEHUTU-FNL somehow wants to have a presence in parliament and they define that as being observers to the parliamentary processes. Again, the matter needs to be discussed and a compromise arrived at since this is an unusual request. Ordinarily, if you want to be an observer in parliament you sit in the gallery and observe processes. But this is not how the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL defines what it wants. It obviously wants to gain experience relevant to how parliament operates.

These are some of the issues holding back the completion of the process. If they were resolved, rapid progress can be made. For some reason these political issues head the agenda and militate against speedy gathering in of rebels in the assembly areas and the finalisation of the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programme.

On 21 and 22 October 2008 Nqakula undertook a follow-up visit to Burundi hoping to finalise these outstanding issues. The outcome was not what was expected. The facilitator announced that he couldn't heal the deep rift between the government and the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL. "The two parties agree on a number of issues, but there is big disagreement between the government and the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL on two crucial aspects" according to Nqakula. They include the government's recognition of the rebels' political branch, the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL as a political party and allowing its members to enter the government. These issues have a direct impact on Burundi's constitution and the government says it cannot move forward if the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL does not respect the central tenets and spirit of the constitution, he said. The facilitator has undertaken to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete to try and break the impasse.

Where to now? A first step is a possible meeting between the facilitator, President Museveni and President Kikwete to try and convince Rwasa to back off on the name issue and President Nkurunziza allowing some PALIPHEHUTU-FNL members to enter the government. This is a possible last resort. In the meantime all the political parties in Burundi are starting to prepare for the 2010 elections. Even PALIPHEHUTU-FNL is preparing for the election though is has not registered as a political party. The threat is that if the PALIPHEHUTU-FNL is not registered at the time of the elections its members can be a threat to the election and even disrupt it. Therefore it is crucial for the process to move forward as quickly as possible and to conclude the talks by the end of December deadline.

Henri Boshoff, Military Analyst, African Security Analysis Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)