Citizens' modest proposal to end Burundi political crisis

Heads of State of East African Community (EAC) partner states meet in Dar es Salaam tomorrow to discuss the political crisis in Burundi. Their colleague, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term, which some say is unconstitutional.

Heads of State of East African Community (EAC) partner states meet in Dar es Salaam tomorrow to discuss the political crisis in Burundi. Their colleague, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term, which some say is unconstitutional.

The meeting follows a flurry of diplomatic activity in Bujumbura involving top envoys from the EAC, International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR), the United Nations, African Union, European Union and the United States of America.

It also comes after protests in Bujumbura that have been going on for two weeks and in which some people have been killed. Thousands of Burundians, fearing for their lives, have already sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

None of these has been able to persuade Mr Nkurunziza from standing for another term. It is now time to bring in the neighbours and regional partners. Perhaps they might make one of their number see reason and act according to the wishes of Burundians.

But it is difficult to see what they will achieve at this late hour when Mr Nkurunziza has already filed his candidature with the country’s electoral commission.

So what can they do? Will they sit down their colleague and tell him to look for another job? Do they have enough stick to wield and tell him to back down? Do they have any carrot to dangle that might persuade him to either quit the race or postpone the polls while some other arrangements are being worked out? Or they are actually powerless and after the Dar meeting everything will be as it was in Burundi.

One thing is certain, though. There will be some straight talking in Dar es Salaam as some of the other presidents have already made their positions clear.

For instance, the host president, Jakaya Kikwete, publicly advised Mr Nkurunziza not to seek another term. That advice was clearly not taken. Yet it is known that the two have been close on a number of issues over the last few years. Will Mr Kikwete feel offended because his advice was ignored and therefore tell Nkurunziza some home truths?

President Paul Kagame has already publicly spoken out on the events in Burundi. He has said that no one should force himself on the people when they have shown clearly that they reject him. And for him the issue is not the third term, but delivering to the people of Burundi.

So the people protesting in the streets of Bujumbura or fleeing the country are not doing so because they do not like Mr Nkurunziza’s face or his sense of fashion or that he loves football and prays more often than most ordinary pious people. They are protesting that the last ten years have not changed their lives a single bit and fear that the next five might even get worse with more violence.

The government of Rwanda has made known its concern regarding the violence and urged the government of Burundi to protect civilians. It has also expressed concern that the genocidal FDLR might take advantage of the situation to get into Burundi and destabilise Rwanda.

President Yoweri Museveni will probably talk tough but will also want to maintain the mediating role he played before Nkurunziza came to power.

We do not know President Uhuru Kenyatta’s position, but he will probably go with the others.

If the East African presidents sought the advice of their citizens in this matter, this is what they might get. Pierre Nkurunziza has other talents that he could be persuaded to put to the service of his people and to the wider region.

He is known to be a pious Christian. Appeal to his Christian sense of humility, of putting others before self, of doing to others what you would like them to do to you. Christians abhor violence and blood. The only blood that counts was poured out a long time ago by a one Jesus Christ and that was supposed to end all blood-letting and other sins.

If that doesn’t work, try this. Build him a church, one of those mega things spread over all East Africa and appoint him Bishop, Supreme Apostle or Prime Prophet or another attractive title suited to the new position. He could even be President. Who says we must stick to some old-fashioned titles like bishop?

He could then do what he loves most – pray. He would then pray for his country to come out of the rut it is in now and for East Africa to integrate faster.

He could earn salvation for the many sinners in his country – corrupt officials, senior military officers and politicians of every hue - who have made it impossible for ordinary Burundians to improve their lives. Souls of the armed youth could also be saved before they get too much blood on their hands and get beyond redemption.

Being an East African church, he would be kept busy, praying for peace in our region, asking God to strike Al Shabab, FDLR, ADF, Imbonerakure and other ungodly groupings and render them harmless. The brethren in South Sudan would benefit from his intercession with God.

Divine mediation of this sort could extend to South Africa and touch the hearts of those harbouring xenophobic thoughts, and to West Africa, too, to help end the Boko Haram menace.

Maybe a passage could be made in the Mediterranean to let the migrants sail across safely.

God knows Africa needs a divine envoy, and what better choice for the job than a praying president.

He has other passions that could benefit more people than the few Burundians he wants to lead. Maybe the presidents should explore these options as they search for ways of solving the political crisis in Burundi.