Burundi: The Arithmetic’s (mostly the lack of it) of Two Terms in Bujumbura

Standard


Two years ago, the celebrated columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo penned down an opinion piece in the East African titled, Why Burundi needs a sex scandal to be noticed. As expected this piece did not go down well in Burundi though it did ask an quintessential question;

What can Burundi do to get East Africa’s attention?

It seems the President of Burundi unwittingly and all for the wrong reasons decided to put Burundi squarely on the world map!

In the last couple weeks we have heard and seen disturbing news emanating from Burundi which has been precipitated by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s attempt to run for a third term. Though I am not an expert in the affairs of the great lakes region I have tried to keep myself a breast with the events leading to this situation, as most of us have been. This has been made much easier by my friends and YLF alumnae who are living this horrendous ordeal. We can only hope this situation ends soon so that they can go back to their usual life.

What is more baffling has been the response (mostly the lack of it) to this crisis from the neighboring countries and Africa at large. The current crisis in Burundi did not ‘just happen’ as one would put it, the writing has been on the wall for a considerable amount of time. The regional and continental bodies in which Burundi is a member have been passive to say the least in trying to address the unfolding crisis. Which makes one question the role and need of such institutions – the AU has an early warning mechanism yet its hands seem to be tied in proactively addressing situations such as this when they are unfolding.

Initially, when the issue came to the fore the African Union through its president announced on Twitter that it preferred the issue of the third term to be addressed through the constitutional court (the Senate had taken this matter to the court for interpretation). The African Union had come under considerable criticism especially on its response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa and this time it tried to show where it stood on this matter. However, as would have been expected, and the African Union should have known better! The administration in Bujumbura exerted pressure on the court and as such a ruling (unanimous for that matter) was struck in favor of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

As this was happening people have been fleeing the country, mostly relocating to Rwanda and Tanzania. It is only after reeling to the unfolding humanitarian crisis have the two countries come to the fore on this crisis. One might not be privy but perhaps the East African countries were trying to reach out to President Pierre Nkurunziza through diplomatic channels.
However, the quintessential question which begs is when does the sovereignty of a country end and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle set in? Although Nkurunziza administration has cut down access to social networks, the citizens of Burundi like in any other country in the world have found means of by passing these restrictions.

Now one might ask why a president who has already served two terms would be interested in extending presidential term limits (through dubious interpretation of the constitution) so that he can serve another term. Aren’t there qualified people in his party who are a position to take the reins? If not why did he not mentor a successor?

Equally baffling has been the international community response to the crisis, case in point was the recent request by the United Nation’s Secretary General. The UN Sec. Gen. requested Uganda’s President Museveni to intervene in the ongoing crisis. In my concerted opinion, the UN Sec. Gen should have requested the Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete to mediate the crisis since the presidency of the East African Community currently rests with him. We have also seen the foreign affairs ministers of EAC going to Burundi and currently COMESA seems to have sent elder’s to access and possibly intervene.
The problem with this is, if there are many focal points trying to mediate then chances of success are minimal since the president might be bidding his time till it is too late. This concept is well laid down in Back from the Brink – the 2008 mediation process and reforms in Kenya.

This week the EAC heads of state will meet in Arusha to deliberate on the crisis in Burundi. One can only hope that the EAC leaders will come up with a road map to the current crisis in Burindi and that they are able to appoint one focal point to handle the crisis. If the EAC leaders are not in a position to convince President Pierre Nkurunziza to rethink on his candidacy the one can expert more volatile times in the great lakes region.

Recommended readings
1. An idiot’s guide to the Burundi crisis by Daniel K Kalinaki – The East African
2. Raila wants East Africa Community, world leaders to act on Burundi by Moses Njagih – The Standard

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

YLF 2014: Recap and Way Forward

Standard

The Regional Young Leaders Forum took place late last month in Dar es Salaam bringing in together young leaders from the region. This year’s forum focused on Regional Security and Local Grievances. Increasingly, in the East African region there have been incidents which necessitated the regional organizers of this forum to seek young leader’s intervention on this matter and if possible, try and come up with solutions to some of these conflicts and incidences.

In the run- up on the conference, readings on the subject matter had been circulated and among these was seminal literature on this matter; Militias, Rebels and Islamist Militants: Human Insecurity and State Crises in Africa edited by Wafula Okumu and Augustine Ikelegbe.

Well, it was only fair that one of the editors of this publication was invited to present an overview of this subject matter and the organizer lived to that expectation by having Dr. Wafula Okumu as a facilitator and moderator in the event.

Day 1

Dr. Wafula Okumu occupied the first slot of the first day with the uphill and unenviable task of summarizing the 251 pages book in two hours! This without a doubt he was able to do justice on.

Some of the key highlights of his presentation were;

  • A breakdown on the nature and characteristics of Armed Non-State Groups in Africa
  • Root causes of Armed Non-State Groups phenomena
  • The State response – in many instances which has been counterproductive or not well informed and thought out
  • Regionalization of Insecurity
  • Harmonization of youth power for public good – [positive role in which young leaders can play in their communities to curb the insecurity phenomena]
  • And like any prophet he finished with some words of wisdom!

The second keynote speaker was Amb. Augustine Philip Mahiga. The ambassador was a former special representative for UN-Secretary General to Somalia and he made an outstanding presentation on Somalia, Al Shabaab and Regional Consequences. It was during his tenure that some semblance of order after a long period of chaos was achieved.

He gave an overview of his three and half years stint in Somalia and some of the achievements made under his tenure such as;

  • Bringing together of clan leaders for the peace process – the Kampala Accord plus how he went for 48 hours without sleep and the intrigues behind the fall of the Prime Minister
  • The process of crafting an interim constitution – approved by reps from the grassroots [mind you in a post conflict environment]
  • Somalia and the peace process – which was taking place in their own country as opposed to the neighboring states and what that meant
  • Election of Parliament – 275 member assembly. A very intriguing process that involved the use of clan leaders since clans were the only institutions that were fully functioning after the collapse of the Somali state. The emerging questions on legitimacy that arose, issues of representation in terms of gender, marginalized communities
  • The intrigues of election of the Speaker and eventual election of the President
  • The envisaged referendum in 2016 and the players involved in that process.
  • Lastly, the ambassador gave a very comprehensive account on the Al Shabaab as we know of it today – the initial formative stages of this group and causes that lead to its formation – both internal and external plus what lead to its rise in terms of resources and manpower.

The two keynotes speakers laid the groundwork for the individual country presentations. Each country delegation had been tasked with coming up and preparing a presentation which was in line with the theme of the conference. The following are the presentations made by the country delegations during the afternoon of the first day and the whole of the second day;

  • Kenya: Local Grievances and Islamist Rebels

Moderator: John Olang Sana, Nairobi Slum Project

  • Ethiopia: Borders and Borderlands

Moderator:  Selahadin Eshetu

  • Tanganyika and Zanzibar: UAMSHO or an Awakening in the Making?

Moderator: Shaban Omari, Shamar Educational Centre – Tanzania

  • Sudan: Does Sudan Pose a Threat to the Security in the Region?

Moderator: Fatma Abdelkarim

  • South Sudan: Resources, Land Rights, Migrants and Rebels

Moderator: Dr. Luka Biong Deng

  • Uganda: Uganda’s History with the LRA and the Rational of the Military Intervention in South Sudan

Moderator: Eunice Akullo, Lecturer, Nkumba University – Uganda

The above country presentations were all well thought out, researched and well presented. They offered great insights into the subject matter and stirred debates, clarifications and inputs. This greatly impressed Dr. Wafula and Dr. Luka who noted that if the younger leaders present are the leaders of today then things were certainly going in the right directions.

Day 3

Getting Your Message Across – I: How to be interviewed on Radio and TV

This session was given by Colin Spurway, the Country Director of BBC media action – Tanzanian assisted by his team.

The reason as to why this session was on the cards is because many people and leaders for that matter usually have a problem in how they go about expressing their ideas and thoughts. Therefore is quintessential for young leaders to know how to interact and put their message across various channels and radio is as big as they come since it is able to reach many people.

Colin Spurway and his team offered practical facilitation on this subject matter.

The key take away from this session how to package my message and techniques of handling difficult questions.

Getting Your Message Across II: Blogging about Political Issues in Africa

Catherinerose Barretto from KINU Hub Tanzania and I [Robert Njathika] co-facilitated on how to get your message across albeit on blog platforms from mid-morning to early afternoon. This session was necessitated by the fact that there is a FES blog that needs input from the young leaders across the region.

One of the outcomes of this session is how the group would go about making their interventions on the YLF-blog.

The YLF-blog

The blog has been opened up to the FES affiliated young leaders in the region to discuss and debate issues. The rationale is there are a number of phenomena happening in each member country and there is no need to wait for the annual regional conferences to discuss this issues.

It is expected that the blog will serve the purpose of keeping the debate online on matters that are incidental to issues touching on EAC / Regional Integration, Economics, Foreign & Security Policy and Human Rights.

The manner in which the issues are presented could take the form of unpacking what is currently appearing in the local dallies of our respective countries, obviously with some background information. The essence of this is would be to keep other FES affiliated young leaders abreast with what is currently happening in the neighboring countries and to solicit some kind of feedback or debate on those issues [if at all they require feedback].

How to go about that?

In Kunduchi, 8 regional blog representatives were chosen. In the course of this week, I shall go about making them contributors on the blog platform – which means they can log in and post articles – the mechanics of how to post shall also be communicated.

I intend to use the blog reps that were chosen to represent each country as the focal point of input on the blog platform. So each country can decide on how they wish to go about passing content to their blog reps. However, if the blog rep in your country is unavailable, you can contact me and I will assist in getting the post on the blog.

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. He is also the blog admin. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES.