News / Africa

    Burundi President Slammed Over AU Threats

    Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza is sworn in for a third term at a parliamentary ceremony, Bujumbura, Aug. 20, 2015.
    Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza is sworn in for a third term at a parliamentary ceremony, Bujumbura, Aug. 20, 2015.
    Anita Powell

    Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza says he will consider any deployment of African Union peacekeepers in his troubled nation an attack against which he will retaliate militarily. 

    “Everyone has to respect Burundi's borders. In case they violate those principles, they will have attacked the country and every Burundian will stand up and fight against them," Nkurunziza announced in a national address on Wednesday that sent shockwaves through the international community and left many wondering how the continental union of nations will respond.

    "The country will have been attacked and it will respond," he said.

    Nkurunziza faces increasing opposition from the AU and the international community over his unpopular quest to extend his tenure as president of the tiny central African nation. He weathered a May coup attempt and won a disputed election in July, though violence has continued.

    According to South Africa-based security analyst Stephanie Wolters, Nkurunziza’s brio comes as no surprise, as Burundi's top elected official has been building up to the statement with increasingly strong rhetoric since first proposing constitutional changes allowing him to seek a third presidential term.

    Wolters, who heads the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis program at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says Nkurunziza's direct challenge to the AU, which only recently began flexing its muscles in terms of continental peace and security issues, bodes poorly for continuing peace talks in Uganda.

    “I think the fact that Nkurunziza has said he will attack African Union troops, it’s not a blow to the AU," she told VOA. "It makes his government look entirely irresponsible; it makes the government look like a government that doesn’t want to resolve a crisis. The African Union now, of course, is going to have to figure out how tough it wants to be in response to that.”

    While the AU has legal backing to send in troops anyway, that move might only escalate the conflict, thereby defeating the primary purpose of a peacekeeping force. Rather than overruling the president, Wolters suggests AU officials should instead put peacekeeping plans on pause and strike a deal to round out its complement of neutral military and civilian observers in Burundi.

    She also says Nkurunziza’s threat could backfire: In recent years, Burundi has been an active contributor to AU peacekeeping missions, which means Burundian soldiers may find themselves face to face with their former battle buddies.

    “Nkurunziza may well say, ‘we’re going to combat AU forces,’ but there’s really no guarantee that the army is going to do that," she said. "In fact, this is a key point here. The army has been less than willing to participate in Nkurunziza’s crackdowns on civilians, and so his threat may very well be very hollow. This may very well be the point at which the army says, ‘that’s it, we’ve had enough of this guy, we’re not going to go combating African Union troops, who, sometimes, we fight alongside.’”

    Nkurunziza’s comments were issued as the specter of regional conflict, messy regional politics and ethnic violence loom: Burundi and neighboring Rwanda have long been politically at odds, with Burundi frequently accusing Rwanda of meddling in its affairs. Most recently, Bujumbura alleged that Kigali recruited Burundian refugees to overthrow Nkurunziza’s government.

    Complicating things further, the presidents of the two nations are from the two rival ethnic groups that clashed in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Both tiny nations are dwarfed by the giant, messy Democratic Republic of Congo, whose social and political troubles often spill over borders, wreaking havoc throughout the region.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Moses608 from: Kenya
    January 01, 2016 4:20 AM
    The hatred is so deep to a point where when AU goes in must be careful not to be viewed by any ethnic group as being in the side of oppressors.A neighbouring country must not be allowed to have a president who is sacred than others hence being allowed to stand for several terms and win absurdly with 98%which means people fear to express themselves.(Even Sadam and Castro won by that margin)Anybody who negotiates a deal has to be impartial-certainly not Museveni.Ghana can help further a field Jamaica can come in.And the Arusha deal has to be respected by all parties.Kenyan President should go to Burundi in person to prepare for this way.He is considered impartial.
    In Response

    by: Angelo
    January 01, 2016 6:11 AM
    Dear readers and writers:
    The AU must avoid appearing partial when it comes to sanctionning African leaders who do not respect presidential term limits prescribed by national constitutions. The case of Burundi is so particular that no constitution has been violated and that the violence is and been funded and organized some western and African countries with known selfish interests. The AU then suffers from appearing as a puppet of such interested countries, which explains Burundi president's opposition to any AU forces being sent in his country.

    Afterall, who does not know the failures or complicities in other countries such as Rwanda (1994) and DRC (currently). Burundi has a reason to fear the imposed AU forces; the AU should work with Burundi to find lasting solutions to the current sporadic insurgencies, which should in no way or form be assimilated to any genocide.
    God bless Burundi!

    by: Ibrahim Korombo Conteh
    December 31, 2015 5:56 PM
    The AU must, by all cost, impose the duty of having a number of African peacekeepers. Burundi has nothing to do with Africa. The government of Burundi is less responsible to threaten the whole of Africa in the battle field. In this issue, Africa must stand as a continent to defeat this mess.

    by: Moses608 from: Kenya
    December 31, 2015 8:09 AM
    Museveni is not considered by some to be impartial.Why not engage President Uhuru Kenyatta and possibly Ghanian President in this complex issue which involves lose of life?

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