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

Kenya and Regional Integration

Standard

Kenya and Tanzania have been experiencing frosty relationships in the last few months. These events came to the fore when tour van operators from Tanzania were denied access to Kenyan Airports to collect tourists and also entry into the Kenyan National Parks. This situation then skyrocketed last week when Kenya Airways – the national carrier, was restricted as to the number of frequencies they could use the Tanzanian airspace. This being as a result of the Kenya Civil Aviation’s reluctance to allow Tanzanian operated low cost carrier, EasyJet entry to operate Kenya.

Also, still on the matter of regional integration, a parliamentary committee has been investigating circumstances in which the national carrier did not heed requests by the Ugandan President HE Museveni to pick him up from his rural home for the East African Heads of States meeting in Nairobi. The Ugandan President had to use Ethiopian Airways.
It is to be expected neighboring countries should have differences on various matters but it has been the way that this differences are being handled that is worrying. Kenya had a cabinet secretary in charge of East African Community and I presume the various East African members have a ministry or a docket in charge of EAC. Despite this and the fact that we have the East African Community Headquarters based in Arusha, these disputes have skyrocketed to the highest institutions of the land – the presidency.

This dispute which arose as a result of Kenya Civil Aviation’s refusing to grant or taking its time in allowing the Tanzanian operated EasyJet the greenlight to operate in Kenya obviously has many elements involved but it is primarily it has economic undertones. Kenya Civil Aviation can be argued has been trying to protect the monopoly of Kenya Airways whose bread has been buttered in offering expensive flights across the region. Also, the entry of EasyJet in to the country would mean the competition to JamboJet ‘the low cost carrier’ operated by Kenya airways. Although, JamboJet is offers cheaper flights the entry of EasyJet would knock them off the market since they are substantially expensive compared to EasyJet. This is to be expected since this is not entirely a new airline on its own but rather a subsidiary of a main airline trying to fill in a gap.

The economics of this aside, what begs is as a community shouldn’t there be better channels in which disputes at a regional level can be solved apart from the presidency level. Or shouldn’t there be a body at EAC that looks at the interests of the community as opposed to the interests of the respective countries? I am a Kenyan and I would very much wish to see the entry of EasyJet into the country because this would result to substantially cheaper flights in the region. Cheaper flights mean more Kenyans will have a chance of visiting their brothers and sisters in the EAC region and by in turn result to more regional integration. However, chief executives with a bottom line to look after are opposed to entry of low cost airlines in the region and in turn lobby to influence decisions that are to their advantage.

In the case of tour operators from Tanzania being denied access to collect tourists from Kenyan Airports and entry into Kenyan National Parks – I totally see no logic in denying the Tanzanian’s entry to our airport and National Parks and basing this on a 1984 agreement. I think it is time the EAC institutions made themselves relevant by addressing such wrangles and also having the foresight to detect this in due time and prevent them from happening.

I would be interested in knowing the views of other young leaders on the above matters and of any other issue that has not come to the fore but might be a problem in the near future for East African Community member states.

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