Why Rwanda's concerns over Burundi crisis are legitimate

The Government of Rwanda issued a statement on Monday in which it expressed serious concern” over the deteriorating political situation in neighboring Burundi.

The Government of Rwanda issued a statement on Monday in which it expressed serious concern” over the deteriorating political situation in neighboring Burundi.

Many eyes were on Rwanda, waiting to see its position and when a statement came out, some described it as short of detail but diplomatically long enough to send a message.

Like they say, when your neighbour’s house is on fire, beware of thine own. Therefore, with the increasing violence and unrest in Burundi, the timing was right for Rwanda to express concern.

Besides that, Rwanda and Burundi share more than mere borders. The historical linkage between the two countries provides Kigali with every legitimate reason to be worried about an unstable Burundi.

For starters, Burundi is what some authors have coined as the ‘Twin Brother’ of Rwanda. Geographically, demographically, culturally and linguistically, we are inter-linked. We share a common bitter colonial history under Germans, who gave way to Belgians, who handed over to the neo-imperialism era led by the French.

These imperialists sowed seeds of ethnic diversity in which we later harvested dead seeds of conflict, genocide and decades of political hopelessness.

Because of this special historical link, Rwanda cannot afford to turn a blind eye on what is unfolding in Burundi. That would amount to betrayal—something similar to abandoning a brother in a lion’s den.

Secondly, an unstable Burundi simply spells bad omen for Rwanda. It has a spillover effect. And it’s not only about the growing number of refugees, (nearly 25,000 at last count), that Rwanda has to grapple with; it is also about the ethnic dimension that this conflict might take.

Yesterday, the social media was awash with some tracts being disseminated by Imbonerakure, the militia group of the ruling party, and they read nothing short of a hate ideology.

The problem is that because of the porous nature of our geographical boundaries, this kind of literature finds it’s way across our borders. And though Rwandans have learnt the bitter way from the consequences of the Genocide and chosen a path of reconciliation and healing, we are not fully insulated from the spillover effect should it happen in Burundi.

Therefore, anything that would awaken these past demons is not something that Rwanda can afford to respond to as a bystander.

Third and probably most important, is the security connotation to this problem. A fragile Burundi provides a fertile ground for extremist groups to flourish. There are already reports of the rag-tag terrorist outfit FDLR taking advantage of the skirmishes to enter into Burundi.

FDLR is a genocidal force with an ideology that we all know. Their alleged presence in Burundi, if true, must be linked to its desire to spread this ideology and also probably open up a new front for destabilising Rwanda. Rwanda can tolerate anything else but not something that will compromise its security.

Lastly, and a probably the fundamental reason behind the unending unrests that have characterised Burundi, is linked to the political model they chose. Unlike its ‘twin brother’, Burundi chose to base it’s political and governance structure on an ethnic backbone—one guided by quotas for the two main groups.

The result of this model is that Burundi remains trapped in the historical web of ethnical differences that continues to breed the evils of mutual suspicion, nepotism, parochialism, undermining one another and a general absence of a common shared vision for the nation.

But for the colonial architects of this divisive narrative, that is what constitutes democracy for Africans. For them, amplifying the ethnic card amounts to freedom of expression and assembly.

Aligning one’s political interests along an ethnic group as opposed to having a clear ideology is the democracy we were left with and continue to feast on.

The one that champions values of inclusiveness, consensual dialogue and the demand for collective dignity is very un-African.

However, what is happening in Burundi today is a reflection of the failure of the model they chose, one that only continues to foment divisions among the Barundians as opposed to building social cohesion.

Therefore, because of the difference in governance models between Rwanda and Burundi, the one-time “identical twins’ have grown to become more ‘fraternal,’ a pair with a striking difference in appearance.

Otherwise, how else would you explain a situation where, on one side, the population is up in arms determined to remove the incumbent and, on the other, the masses are united with one strong voice and determination to have the constitution amended to let their leader stay on.

As we hope for Burundi to emerge out of the current skirmishes, it is high time it borrowed a leaf from its twin brother.

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