EAC heads of state to discuss Burundi crisis

Heads of state of the East African Community (EAC) will meet next week to discuss Burundi’s deepening political impasse that has forced thousands of civilians to flee the country ahead of next month’s presidential election.
Some Burundian refugees are taken to Muyira Sector for registration last week. (File)
Some Burundian refugees are taken to Muyira Sector for registration last week. (File)

Heads of state of the East African Community (EAC) will meet next week to discuss Burundi’s deepening political impasse that has forced thousands of civilians to flee the country ahead of next month’s presidential election.

The meeting will take place on May 13, in Dar es Salaam, according to Tanzania’s minister for foreign affairs

Bernard Membe, who was yesterday in Bujumbura heading a fact-finding mission instituted by current EAC chair, President Jakaya Kikwete.

It’s not clear whether Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza will attend the planned meeting but pressure to act continued to rise on EAC leaders to work with players in Burundi’s political drama to restore calm in the country.

Last month, Burundi’s ruling party CNDD-FDD endorsed President Nkurunziza for a third term but the decision riled opposition and civil society groups, who say it’s against the constitution and the 2000 Arusha agreement that ended the country’s long civil war in 2005.

Earlier this week, the constitutional court sealed the deal when it ruled that a third term for Nkurunziza wasn’t illegal. Over 34,000 civilians have since fled Burundi to neigbouring countries, 24000 of those in Rwanda as refugees.

Crisis meeting

Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who’s part of the mission to Burundi, flew to Bujumbura yesterday to join her counterparts.

“I have tasked them to ensure that they meet all key parties in the conflict and complete a report, which must include recommendations on how best the matter, can be solved,”President Kikwete is quoted by Tanzanian media as saying.

There was no official statement issued by Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs ministry but a source in the government spokesperson’s office told The New Times, yesterday, that the ministers were to return from Burundi Wednesday evening (last night) and jointly file a report for the EAC chair.

“What I can tell you is that they will spend the day in Bujumbura. Who they will meet and what they’ll discuss, I can’t tell now but I am sure there will be a statement issued at the end of their mission,” the source said.

Mindi Kasiga, head of Tanzania’s communication unit in the Foreign Affairs ministry, told the media that the ministers’ mission was expected to be done with by the end of this week.

The details in their report will be significant in informing the Heads of State of their next course of action on Burundi, whose degenerating situation could destabilise the region’s peace and dampen its investment and tourism outlook.

Leaders under pressure

Analysts contend that the fact-finding mission was a result of mounting pressure on EAC leaders to act in the face of refugee crisis and deteriorating situation.

With the country’s courts involved, EAC leaders are hesitant to be seen interfering in Burundi’s sovereignty by influencing an otherwise internal political matter whose resolution lies in the hands of Burundians.

But this is not the view held by Western governments such as the UK that issued a statement, yesterday, dismissing the country’s constitutional court ruling as one that was reached after intimidation by Nkurunziza’s apparatus.

The statement urged those engaged in the country’s dialogue to recall the Arusha agreement’s principles of good governance, rule of law and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.

“We welcome the role of the United Nations, in particular the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Said Djinnit, and the East African Community. We urge calm while this dialogue is underway,” reads the statement in part.

In the capital Bujumbura, a dark cloud hovers over the city making residents wonder whether the presidential election scheduled for next month will take place; presidential candidates should be campaigning now but street protests haven’t allowed that to happen.

In the short run, the region and international community want calm restored in Burundi to prevent more locals from fleeing but also allow those that have already fled to return home.

Analysts argue that if majority of Burundians don’t wish Nkurunziza to seek third term, then their only chance is at the ballot, where they can deny him victory but for that to happen, calm must be restored at home to encourage Burundians to get out of hiding.

There was hope for such a thing to happen after a secret meeting between the government and opposition groups that reportedly started Tuesday and ended yesterday, according to AFP.

Quoting an anonymous government source, the news agency reported that Nkurunziza’s administration had “agreed to talk with some partners in civil society and the opposition to find a solution.”

“This is a last chance meeting, they have to come up with concrete solutions so that elections can be held in acceptable conditions,” AFP quoted another diplomatic source as saying.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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