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War And Peace In Burundi


On 01 July, Burundi will be celebrating its independence of 1962 from the Belgians, and while they will be observing this remarkable day the rest of the world will be hoping for the lasting peace of a ten year civil war that has ravaged that country, leaving more than 300 000 dead with over a million people, according to the UN, internally displaced or living abroad as refugees.

The civil war which was sparked off by the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye in 1993 – the country’s first democratic elected president, has officially ended following a peace deal that was facilitated by the late Tanzanian president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and former South African president Nelson Mandela. Dubbed “Arusha Accord”, the peace process brought together 19 Hutu and Tutsi parties in an effort to end years of conflict, and entailed a three year roadmap for peace and the restoration of democracy in that country.

Hence 01 May was significant for Burundians, for it marked the mid-point of the implementation of the peace agreement that was signed in August 2000 – a transfer of the presidency from a Tutsi minority to a Hutu majority. In a country that has about 7-million people baHutu makeup for 85 percent of the population and the baTutsi for the 15 percent. Since the Burundi independence, it is reported that a small elite from within the baTutsi has used its control of the army to control the state. The army is made up of 40 percent of baHutu while almost all officers are Tutsi. Furthermore, Ndadaye’s assassination in 1993, the first Hutu president in that country is believed to have been carried out by Tutsi soldiers.

The inauguration of Domitien Ndayizeye, from the Front pour la Democratie au Burundi (Frodebu), on 01 May serves as the second time, since independency, a Hutu takes the office of presidency in Burundi, a political-power shift which is hailed as radical and a major step forward in the peace process by observers.

Ndayizele takes over from Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, who, as the accord stipulated, ruled for 18 months since November 2001. Ndayizele’s deputy is Alphonse Marie Kadege, a Tutsi, from the Union pour le progress national party (UPRONA), and will both run the country for 18 months before elections can take place.

More than 10 political parties are expected to take part in those elections. Among others are: Frodebu, UPRONA, Alliance burundaise-africaine pour le salut (ABASA) and the Rassemblement pour la democratie et le development economique et social (RADDES).

However, it is hoped that before the elections take place fighting between the government and the rebels stop. In Burundi, there are two main rebel groups, and are divided into big and small factions.

The largest is the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Force pour la defense de la democratise (CNDD-FDD) – which has two factions. Pierre Nkurunziza is the leader of the larger faction; Jean Bosco Ndayikengerukiye leads the smaller faction.

The Parti pour la liberation du people hutu-Forces nationals de liberation (PALIPEHUTU-FNL) also is divided into two factions. Agathon Rwasa heads the major faction, and Alain Mugarabona leads the smaller faction.

Although a ceasefire agreement was signed by the government and the rebels last year December there has been reports that fighting still continues in Burundi.

Just last month – May, about 12 000 people in Bubanza Province, northwestern Burundi were reported to have fled their homes, “because the army launched an offensive against the CNDD-FDD.” A local radio station, Radio Publique Africaine, according to the United Nations news agency, IRIN, reported that between 15 000 and 20 000 civilians have fled following the fighting that erupted on 22 May between the army and the rebels of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL faction of Alain Mugabarabona in Kabezi Commune – 20 km south of the Capital. In Masama, Gitenga, Mwaza and Kiremba hills of Kabezi Commune in Bujumbura rural province, another 20 000 fled following a fighting between the government and PALIPEHUTU-FNL faction of Agathon Rwasa.

The change of power that took place on 01 May was dismissed by both rebel groups as unimportant. A spokesperson for the CNDD-FDD, Gelase Ndabirabe made it clear: “this is meaning-less, we call on the Burundi people not to be distracted by the ceremony.” The leader of the larger faction of CNDD-FDD, Pierre Nkurunziza, went even farther as to demand a new “charter of transition” to replace the existing Arusha Accord for peace to be restored in Burundi.

Mind you, this war is not just about mad-men fighting it out there in the bush. Kofi Annan identified Burundi in his December 2002 report to the UN Security council, as one of five conflict-ridden countries across the world where children were being used as soldiers. The international NGO: Save the Children, rated Burundi, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, as one of the world’s five worst conflict zones in the world to be a woman or a child.

Our world-respected leaders however just sneer at these truths. Critics are given labels: “prophets of doom” to reduce their seriousness and their argument discredited by any means necessary. I quote Nelson Mandela: “The prophets of doom were many and they remain among us.” When he made this statement at the handing-over ceremony I couldn’t help but think perhaps he is not in touch with reality. Some have accused him of simplifying the Burundi situation by dealing with it as if he were dealing with the Apartheid regime.

The country’s economic woes are another serious factor contributing to Burundi’s grim state of affairs. Reports reveal that the 10-year civil war has reduced the country into becoming the world’s third-poorest country. Even more startling, the government depends on the taxes it gets from beer consumption for more than 50 percent of its annual revenues.

At the beginning of last month, the IMF, which has become an institution that represents poverty to many, approved that Burundi can draw funds from a US $13-million credit for post-conflict emergency aid. Unsurprisingly, nothing was said to the public about the strings attached to this financial aid scheme.

Apart from acknowledging their complicity in laying foundation for the ethnic strife that has been going on in that country for more than six decades which has left millions dead, the Belgian government has pledged about R7,5 million ($60 million) for an African peacekeeping force.

Finally, the Belgians have proved, once and for all, that the African so-called tribal wars are not so tribal after all. That in these “wars” there is always a third force at play, furthermore, that ethnocentrism is not something inherent in Africans.

What the Burundians need to concern themselves now is not trivial issues like ethnic differences, there is a country that needs to be rebuilt, an economic system that needs to be designed by Burundians for Burundians. And not designed by the IMF for the Burundians, as IMF’s Eduardo Aninat has indicated. He has been quoted saying the Fund (the US $13-million credit) stands ready to consider further financial support for Burundi, subject to continued strong programme implementation. One would think after the Argentinian economic crisis the IMF would be reluctant to talk about “strong programme implementation”, even cease and desist from pushing its capitalistic agendas on people of the world.

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