Burundians yearn for peace – as peace accord hangs in balance

Prospects for lasting peace in Burundi, remain illusive as the bickering between the Government of Pierre Nkurunziza and the rebel group, National Front for Liberation (FNL) rebel movement, continues, in the central African country - over the implementation of the just signed Burundi Peace Accord. In the accord signed, last June, the Burundian government and the rebels Palipehutu-FNL committed themselves to lasting peace. The accord is expected to end a 13-year old civil strife that ruined the country, leaving thousands displaced, internally and into neighbouring countries. 
President Pierre Nkuruziza, struggling to put the country together.
President Pierre Nkuruziza, struggling to put the country together.

Prospects for lasting peace in Burundi, remain illusive as the bickering between the Government of Pierre Nkurunziza and the rebel group, National Front for Liberation (FNL) rebel movement, continues, in the central African country - over the implementation of the just signed Burundi Peace Accord.

In the accord signed, last June, the Burundian government and the rebels Palipehutu-FNL committed themselves to lasting peace.

The accord is expected to end a 13-year old civil strife that ruined the country, leaving thousands displaced, internally and into neighbouring countries. 

“It noted with satisfaction the common messages delivered by the Government of Burundi and the Palipehutu-FNL on the root causes and consequences of the conflict as well as the key socio-economic challenges facing Burundi,” reports back, Special Envoy to the Burundi Peace Process, Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo.

Challenges remain, that could cause major obstacles in the implementation of the accord. These include, the registration of the rebel group, Palipehutu-FNL as a political party in Burundi, disarmament, demobilisation, and the reintegration process of former combatants.

Bickering, is for instance over the name that should be adopted by the former rebel movement, Burundi wants FNL to stop adding the acronym Palipehutu, while the FNL leader Agathon Rwasa, says that he does not see, a name change as priority.

The civil war in Burundi that heightened from early 1993, claimed many lives and also creating a major humanitarian disaster. According, to the UNHCR report of 2006, over 438.700 Burundians were refugees, in neighbouring countries.

Since then, Burundi was embroiled in a civil war, making it impossible for any kind of investors to consider it for their investments.

Reported incidences, include the hijacking of a bus from Kigali to Bujumbura, which was stopped by a group of armed thugs, who mercilessly slaughtered them all.

The memory of the gruesome bodies of the people we buried is still fresh in my mind- the civil war went beyond boundaries and affected its immediate neighbours.

Which is why, when I was travelling to Nairobi a couple of years ago, I was greatly disturbed by the plane’s captain words.

He in the usual smooth and articulate manner told passengers that apart from enjoying the flight, they should expect to have a stopover at Bujumbura international airport, before proceeding to Nairobi.

I was still overwhelmed by the omnipresent sense of fear and insecurity, a thing I was sure was still living. At least, from what I was hearing, one rebel group was far from accepting any negotiations or suspend hostilities.

Deep-seated mistrust and inter-group suspicions remained among political leaders. I therefore cursed the captain’s decision to fly us over the dreadful environment.

I looked around the plane to see if there was anybody, who was as bothered as I was, but for sure, everyone else on board was calm.

The usual supersonic speed of a bowing 737 never gave me a chance to think as it was already flying over Lake Tanganyika.

There was a heavy blowing wind, that pushed the plane like a bird, almost as it wished and for the first time, I saw signs of great fear among the ‘fearless passengers’ on board.

Dutifully, the captain kept on reminding us to tighten our seat belts and be ready for a rough landing. My tongue quickly jumped into the mouth as I felt stomach-aches.

I knew that what I feared for had come- death everywhere in Burundi. The wind was so heavy and you could see a bird swinging its tail up, almost over its head. The plane finally made a heart-stopping landing on a pot holed run way.

Every passenger was at least relieved but of course, there was still a long way to go, as we were to takeover again to Jommo- Kenyatta international airport.

Bujumbura airport was dead dull with only one big UN plane. It was no doubt for UN soldiers who operated not only in Burundi but also in the DRC as peacekeepers.

The only plane that belonged to Burundi, was a black-rust stained Boeing 737. The airport was bushy and vividly showed no sign of life.

I left praying for the country to recover and build a peaceful environment for its people to keep on going like others in the rest of the world.

For, if the airport is as I saw it, how was life deep in the heart of the country? I asked myself.

Since then, however, Burundi started moving through a period of political transition that recently saw one of the ‘diehards of the so-called Hutu cause’ (FNL/PALIPEFUTU), sign a peace agreement.

The success of the peace processes now entirely depends on the country’s political leaders. They should as matter of fact, reduce tensions to implement the various agreements that underpin the peace process and ultimately realize a peaceful transition.

The country security was greatly affected by ethnocentrisms and unless they are unmasked, with the people of Burundi and their leaders changing their attitude, I do not see them creating peace.

If this trend remains, as it is today, Burundians hope that recent developments may lead to peace in their country for the first time in so many years will continue to be mysterious.

Why do I say this? It is not understandable for the FNL/PALIPEHUTU to claim to be seeking peace for all Burundians when it still bears the name PALIPEHUTU (the party for the liberation of the Hutu people).

The name connotatively breeds ethnic hatred. The utterances of the FNL for instance, on calls, for the unification of all ‘ethnic groups’ in Burundi.

“Our movement has never asked to integrate in the army or the police. We must sit together and discuss why Hutus and Tutsis have killed one another and see what could be a good future for both ethnic groups,” FNL spokesperson Pasteur Habimana once said.

If we take a lesson from the Rwanda’s past history, where such a party, (PARIMUHTU), existed with the same ideology, no one will doubt the bad agenda of the Burundian party-FNL/Palipehutu. The name in itself is a stambling, block in the on going peace process in Burundi.

The party sees itself as more of a ‘Hutu’, than Burundian. It will thus be very hard, for it, to embrace others it claims to be Tutsis or their sympathizers- reminiscent of the Rwanda experience.

That is why I concur with Daniel K. Kalinaki when he brilliantly observes that, “the FNL was the last rebel group to sign a peace agreement with President Nkurunziza’s government. However, the FNL has dithered on the implementation. They have dragged their feet on implementing the ceasefire provisions, citing the need to discuss a power-sharing agreement and reform of the army, saying it is dominated by the Tutsi”.

I am convinced that hatred like love, takes long time to be achieved or end, but for the sake of beginning a peaceful process, let FNL remove the acronym PALIPEHUTU.

After all, Forces nationales de liberation (National Liberation Force) sounds more people friendly. The government on the other must be ready to agree to disagree with FNL-Palipehutu.

Burundi people desperately need peace, they have had enough and no political leader, should claim patriotism if he/she does not offer a conducive environment to that effect.

Contact: mugitoni@yahoo.com

 

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