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Crisis looms as Burundians flee to Rwanda

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IN SUMMARY

  • Agencies and diplomats are warning of a potential refugee crisis in the region as a result of a massive population displacement into Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of Burundi’s’ presidential elections in June.
  • For the past three weeks, Burundians have been arriving in Rwanda’s Bugesera district in the southeast of the country citing renewed violence by pro-government militias in favour of a third term for the president.
  • Despite Burundi becoming actively involved in regional peace-building efforts, it remains a fragile post conflict country with a government that consistently uses the media and justice system to repress political opposition, according to a report.

Agencies and diplomats are warning of a potential refugee crisis in the region as a result of a massive population displacement into Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of Burundi’s’ presidential elections in June.

Burundians have started fleeing to Rwanda, amid growing political tensions fuelled by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plans to seek a third term.

The Arusha Accord, a peace deal brokered by Tanzania in 2000 that helped end years of ethnic violence, limits the president to two five-year terms in office.

For the past three weeks, Burundians have been arriving in Rwanda’s Bugesera district in the southeast of the country citing renewed violence by pro-government militias in favour of a third term for the president.

So far, only Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is on record as requesting President Nkurunziza to respect the constitution, arguing that violating the legal limit on the presidential term limit would spark violence that would be hard to stop.

President Paul Kagame said on Thursday, that Burundians should take control of their own issues.

“I think Burundi still has the capacity to solve the current problems the country is facing. I think, if at some point they need our help, they will approach us or anyone else. But this is not to say that we cannot read between the lines and inquire if our help is needed. I was told that there are some people who have fled from Burundi coming into Rwanda but officials from both sides, Rwanda and Burundi, are discussing the matter to find a solution,” President Kagame said.

However, William Gelling, the UK’s ambassador to Rwanda, who is also in charge of Burundi, told The EastAfrican in an interview that the current political situation in the region, as countries prepare for crucial presidential polls, could tick off a refugee time bomb.

“There is a role for bigger regional countries especially Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa in trying to persuade Burundi that the future lies in opening up to the EAC and attracting investors as Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have done enormously well,” Mr Gelling said.

Mr Gelling said the instability in Burundi could undermine regional integration efforts.

According to a recently released 2014 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report, Burundi has made limited progress towards a more stable democracy following the end of the civil war in 2005.

Despite Burundi becoming actively involved in regional peace-building efforts, it remains a fragile post conflict country with a government that consistently uses the media and justice system to repress political opposition, according to the report.

“There have been increasing reports of politically motivated violence including extrajudicial killings, harassment of the media and manipulation of the judicial system for political ends.

“To strengthen democratic accountability and improve the long-term stability of Burundi, the government needs to put an end to the culture of political violence and abide by the presidential term limit set out in the constitution,” the report says.

Meanwhile, early this week, senior officials in Burundi’s ruling party – CNDD-FDD — wrote to President Nkurunziza requesting him to abandon his quest for a third term.

By Daniel Sabitti, Berna Namata and Edmund Kagire