There is no doubt that some nations are disgrace to themselves, their people and other nations too. The essence of this story has repeated of late again and again. It is the big and middle powers that are conducting the orchestra.
Therefore, why should such things become so surprising or concerning? Nor is it the first of its kind for the African Union!
On October 18, 2015, African also recommended to the General Assembly Burundi to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, along with another notorious human rights violator government, the TPLF regime in Ethiopia. Before that there was Saudi Arabia! It means now for the next three years, Burundi and Ethiopia become judges and jury on other nations of the world on matters pertaining to the gamut of human rights issues, when these countries have miserably failed their nations. This election was carried out despite signals of grave reservations by the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
A horrified Human Rights Watch last month released a video describing one other such action. It called the video as something the UN does not want the people of the world to see. It deals with the selection of a Syrian delegate to chairmanship of a UN committee.
In the case of Burundi’s election and Ethiopia’s re-election to the Human Rights Council, a shocked international community observed this grossly insane act as a day when abusers have been transformed into saints!
The American Thinker wrote:
“Entering the world of the United Nations (UN) is like tumbling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland or seeing a George Orwellian novel come to life as logic is suspended and such inversions as good is bad and bad is good are standard. And the UN’s grossly misnamed–but perfect for UN world–Human Rights Council proved this once again on Tuesday by voting to add countries with gross human rights abuses to join the other countries with similar or even greater violations to their organization.”
That the African Union re-elected the crisis-stricken Burundi to its Peace and Security Council, during its last summit, and refused to approve plans for a peacekeeping mission designed to prevent tensions from spiralling out of control was a surprise.
The Burundi crisis has the potential to be devastating. Already there are hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people. Many journalists, activists and suspected opposition sympathisers have been summarily executed. Amnesty International reports talk of possible mass graves. And the situation is getting worse. Various opposition groups have formed militias, and are engaging in low-intensity fighting against government troops. This could escalate into a civil war, or even a regional war if rumours of Rwanda’s involvement are true.
The violence is taking on an ethnic hue, with Hutus pitted against Tutsis, raising fears of a repeat of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. For the African Union, Burundi is a situation that clearly requires urgent attention.
Expectations were that the AU was preparing to deploy a strong peacekeeping force to stabilise the situation and protect civilians. Although Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza rejected the force, the AU, it was hoped, would persuade the defiant Nkurunziza to change his mind.
But instead, Burundi was re-elected to the Peace and Security Council – the very body created to solve problems like Burundi. This is a marked easing of the pressure on Burundi’s government.
Instead of a peacekeeping force, the AU has now sent a high-level panel to Bujumbura to promote “inclusive dialogue”, and to encourage Nkurunziza to change his mind. Whether dialogue will happen as the violence continues is debatable.
In addition, the AU will increase the number of observers from under 20 to 100, again pending approval from Bujumbura, even as the situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate.
The mediation efforts led by the East African Community, and specifically Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, hold out little hope. Museveni is hardly an ideal mediator given the fact that in 2005, he orchestrated the removal of term limits in Uganda to allow himself more time in office. He cannot be too critical of Nkurunziza’s efforts to do exactly the same thing. Uganda is also far from a neutral force in the region, and its involvement is likely to stir up regional tensions rather than calm them.
Much more disturbing are allegations, by both the United Nations and the United States, of Rwanda arming and training Burundian rebels with an aim to bring down President Nkurunziza.
If true, there are several overlapping factors that may explain Rwanda’s involvement. The relationship between Rwanda and Burundi – who really don’t get along – is complex. The histories of these two tiny nations are so deeply intertwined that their present cannot help but overlap. They share the same culture, speak the same language, and have the same ethnic composition. The regime in power in Rwanda is Tutsi-dominated, while the one in Burundi is Hutu-controlled.
And although the nature of the conflict is not all about Hutus and Tutsis, it is clear that when there’s trouble in Burundi, there’s bound to be trouble in Rwanda too, as the politics of ethnicity inevitably come into play. Paul Kagame of Rwanda is a Tutsi in a Hutu-majority country, and if ethnic violence spreads from Burundi to Rwanda, it could pose an existential threat to his regime.
It makes sense, then, that Kigali is watching Burundi’s slow but steady unravelling with a nervous eye. And it can’t come as too much of a surprise that Rwanda, with its no-nonsense president, is doing more than just watching.
There have also been some reports that the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu-led militia founded by perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, have been supporting Nkurunziza’s security forces. If true, the presence of the FDLR in Burundi would provide the Rwandan government with a powerful incentive for direct intervention.
Allegations of Rwanda’s involvement in Burundi are a sign that the current conflict has the potential to escalate to a regional war, so the AU and UN must do much more than they are currently doing. A peacekeeping force is absolutely essential, and President Nkuruziza should be pressurised to stop opposing its deployment.
*The writer is the Academic Registrar, Eelo University, Somaliland