Burundi: The protest that never was

It is now a defining characteristic. Burundian authorities are prone to making blunders. That would be fine if that was all there is to it. They would then only be dismissed as a bunch of bumbling officials still learning the intricacies of statecraft and doing a very bad job of it.

It is now a defining characteristic. Burundian authorities are prone to making blunders. That would be fine if that was all there is to it. They would then only be dismissed as a bunch of bumbling officials still learning the intricacies of statecraft and doing a very bad job of it.

But it goes beyond blunder and extends to committing serial atrocities against their citizens, and setting their country on the road to ruin. That can no longer be passed off as mere incompetence. It is wilful destruction of human life and the nation.

 

In the latest blunder, Burundian officials who were attending the African Union Summit in Kigali left the meeting, apparently because they feared for their lives.

 

This was simply another way of saying they were boycotting the AU Summit in Kigali in protest against Rwanda’s alleged backing of their enemies.

 

The very next day, they had the courage to say exactly that. It was the now familiar allegation: Rwanda was backing enemies of the Burundi government.

A day after, they added atrocity to the blunder. Ms Hafsa Mossi, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly and former minister in the Burundi government was shot and killed outside her home in the capital Bujumbura.

Predictably, the authorities linked it to people in Rwanda they did not name.

If they were hoping to reap big publicity from the boycott of the AU Summit in Kigali and the murder that they connected to Kigali, they miscalculated.

The absence of Burundi at the summit was hardly noticed. Or if it was, it was completely ignored. The intended protest was a non-event.

The Burundi government thought the timing of the boycott was the perfect moment to give them the attention they needed and at the same deny Rwanda credit for hosting a successful summit. In the event, the opposite happened.

Burundi was completely denied the attention it craved and Rwanda basked in the success of an unusually well-organised summit which eclipsed Burundi’s feeble and puerile efforts at protest.

Then they bungled it again. A high profile politician was assassinated and, as has become the practice, put the blame elsewhere. They could have spared themselves the embarrassment.

Reports from media usually close to them point to elements within the government as the likely culprits.

The assassination had a different effect from what was intended. It drew attention to Burundi alright, but not the sort they wanted or needed. It came across as a country where assassinations have replaced debate, where alternative views are not tolerated but silenced permanently.

The murder of Hafsa Mossi was a blunder in another sense. For some time, the strategy in Burundi has been to keep the country out of the media.

The government reduced mass killings which were causing it bad publicity globally and instead intensified targeted assassinations of selected individuals that did not elicit the same level of condemnation.

For a while this strategy seemed to be working. Media reports spoke of a reduction in violence and mass murder. They reported that there were only a few killings.

And so the spotlight and international pressure on Burundi became less. They were greatly helped by terrorist attacks in France and other places which shifted attention away from Burundi.

With the murder of Hafsa Mossi and the boycott of the AU Summit in Kigali, this strategy came unstuck. Burundian authorities drew unwelcome attention to the dreadful state of affairs in their country.

The fellows are not only serial bunglers; they also still live in the past and seem resolutely bent on staying there. For instance, blaming Rwanda for all sorts of ills no longer has traction.

No charge will stick. Rwanda is not the meddler-in-chief of the region (never was in the first place). She is now the exemplar of all that is excellent: good and effective governance, remarkable socio-economic transformation, preferred destination of investors and other visitors, safest place to be for all categories of people, and so on.
All the things that were in evidence during the AU Summit that Burundi chose not to see. Obviously choosing not to see does not render them non-existent.

Somebody should advise the Burundi Government to fire their advisors because clearly they are getting wrong advice. The protest that didn’t work and continued murder of people who see things differently are clear examples of bad advice.

The authorities can blunder all they want and even destroy themselves if they wish. The trouble is they are taking innocent citizens with them and drawing neighbours into their troubles. Again somebody should advise them that this is unacceptable.

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