THERE appears little hope that Burundi’s political antagonists will bury the hatchet any time soon.
The government may insist there’s no crisis, but reports of disappearances and extra-judicial killings continue to emerge well over two years after major unrest broke out. That was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid in 2015 to seek a third term in office, something the opposition deemed unconstitutional. Since then, there have been widespread atrocities, a failed coup, and an exodus of nearly half a million Burundi citizens.
Earlier this month, the latest in a long series of peace talks ended with no hint of a breakthrough and each side rejecting the legitimacy of the other. Hardly surprising as much of the exiled opposition, and a coalition of civil society groups, boycotted the meeting, which was mediated by the East African Community.
According to Carine N. Kaneza of the Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security in Burundi, one reason the talks failed was that the mediation team “appeared to be at pains not to offend the Burundi government by inviting components that it objects to”. Opposition figures, whom the government has repeatedly labelled as “coup plotters”, and even sought to have arrested, were only permitted to take part in their individual capacities rather than as representatives of parties.
It was perceptions that political power was being concentrated in too few hands that pushed Burundi towards civil war in 2003. That conflict dragged on until 2015 and killed an estimated 300,000 people. While the risk of another major conflict may be small, the democratic gains made since the end of the last oneare beingundermined, as is the credibility of the current meditation team.
“By treating a problem with deep roots related to politics, history and injustice as if it were one with much more shallow grievances, the mediators are jeopardising the long-term peace and security of Burundi and East Africa,” warns Kaneza.