Monday January 4 2016

Burundi should look to past leaders for guidance on conflict resolution

By Titus Shem Makuma

The tension in Burundi calls for timely intervention of both the regional and the international community. In so doing, both the government and the people of Burundi will be guided to avoid the political backlash which may revive the past unhealed wounds created between the minority Tutsi and the majority Hutu. Burundi has been in the headlines since April 25, 2015 when the ruling political party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), announced that the incumbent president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, would run for a third term. The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office.

This political unrest has resulted into hundreds of deaths while others have hopelessly fled their homes seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Burundi has come a long way and her people were just beginning to settle down in social and economic engagements. All these efforts are being washed down by people with negative minds and selfish ambitions in society. Obviously these are leaders who do not carry the nation at heart.

The 1993 assassination of Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye sparked a civil war between Hutus and Tutsis that also significantly influenced the Hutu-led 1994 Rwandan genocide. The government and people of Rwanda, through the leadership of president Paul Kagame, have since then put the socio-economic and political pieces together in order to forge a way forward for their beautiful country. I urge the leadership in Burundi to borrow a leaf from their brothers in Rwanda. I appeal to president Kagame to put aside political differences and open his fatherly arms and heart to the suffering people of Burundi. Of course, our own President Museveni is already taking a lead through mediation process. The mediation effort should be enhanced by other heads of government in the East African region.

Burundi is a small nation with only 10.82m people (2014) and the GDP of 157.52 billion USD (2014) World Bank Report. The GDP per capita of Burundi is equivalent to 1 per cent of the world’s average. The GDP per capita of Burundi averaged $172.58 from 1960 until 2014 (World Bank). Burundi’s economic freedom score is 53, making its economy the 132 freest in the 2015 Index. Burundi is ranked 27th out of 46 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, and its score is worse than the world average.

Burundi lies behind Somalia, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Madagascar and Malawi among others. Land-locked Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations and one of the most corrupt countries in sub-Saharan Africa. All these factors should serve as a motivator for the government and the people of Burundi to unite and constructively build their nation.
Former president Pierre Buyoya, who has extensive political, diplomatic and military experience, may greatly assist in the mobilisation process of the much-needed African and international support geared at restoring peace in Burundi. Buyoya has ruled Burundi twice, from 1987 to 1993 and from 1996 to 2003. With 13 years combined as Head of State, Buyoya is notably the longest-serving president of Burundi.

In September 1987, Buyoya led a military coup d’etat against the Second Republic of Burundi, led by Jean-Baptiste Bagaza and installed himself as the first president of the Third Republic. He proclaimed an agenda of liberalisation and patching relations between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Following a Hutu uprising in August 1988, which caused approximately 20,000 deaths, Buyoya appointed a commission to find a way to mediate the violence.

This commission created a new constitution which Buyoya approved in 1992. This constitution called for a non-ethnic government with a president and a Parliament. Democratic elections were held in June 1993 and were won by the Hutu Melchior Ndadaye who created a balanced Hutu and Tutsi government. Nevertheless, the army assassinated Ndadaye in October 1993 and Burundi returned to civil war. Nearly 150,000 people were killed as the war raged. The coalition government under Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was unable to stop the fighting.

On July 25, 1996, with strong support and backup from the army, Buyoya returned to power in a military coup. The civil war became less intense but continued. Economic sanctions were also imposed by the international community because of the nature of Buyoya’s return to power, but were eased as Buyoya created an ethnically inclusive government. Buyoya strategically selected as his vice-president Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu. The conditions of the governmental agreement required Pierre Buyoya to hand over power 2003, which he did. Ndayizeye became the president of Burundi on April 30, 2003. Again I appeal to the leadership in Bujumbura to borrow a leaf from Buyoya’s exemplary leadership that focused on the unification and economic development of the country.

Across the sub-Saharan borders, another political icon in the name Jerry Rawlings still commands high respect on both the military and political fronts. The arrival of Rawlings on Ghana’s political terrain in 1979 has been widely publicised. Notably, Rawlings has been sort of an enigma on the Ghanaian political terrain for more than 20 years. And presently, Rawlings remains a larger-than-life figure in Ghanaian politics, even though he has been out of office for a long time. In my own perspective, the two incredible personalities in Buyoya and Rawlings can combine well to bring about intended political stability in Burundi.

Rev Makuma is a lecturer, Mountains of the Moon University.