African Union refuses to invade Burundi

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by Ann Garrison

If Western press alone could overthrow a government, Burundi’s would be long gone. Anyone searching the web for “Burundi” and “News” in the past year would have seen long lists of shrill press quoting shrill Western officials demanding that Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza step down, amidst street protest and armed insurgency, and make way for a “transitional government.”

Nkurunziza’s crime? Winning a third term in office, after Burundi’s constitutional court ruled that he was constitutionally entitled to run for election by universal suffrage a second time. Nkurunziza is hugely popular with Burundi’s rural agricultural majority.

Ibrahima Fall, Senegalese diplomat and the AU’s special representative to the African Great Lakes Region
Ibrahima Fall, Senegalese diplomat and the AU’s special representative to the African Great Lakes Region

U.S. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the U.S. State Department, the E.U. and Belgium, Burundi’s former colonial master, have fiercely advocated for the deployment of 5,000 African Union (A.U.) troops in Burundi, whether Burundi agrees or not. They say the deployment is needed to protect civilians and prevent genocide.

In her book, “Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide,” Samantha Power argues that Americans are obliged to protect civilians and prevent genocide with – what else? – our unprecedented military force. A.U. “peacekeeping” missions rely on the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) for weapons, training, intelligence, logistics, organization and command.

Nevertheless, on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, the African Union’s Annual Summit of member nations dismissed the West’s proposal to deploy A.U. troops to Burundi without Burundi’s consent. The Burundian government has said that the fighting is taking place only in some neighborhoods in the capital, Bujumbura, that their own security forces are capable, and that they will respond to any A.U. deployment without their consent as an invasion.

They also said that Burundi’s government, army and police all include members of both the Hutu and Tutsi groups and that there is therefore no imminent danger of genocide. In 1993, Burundi’s predominantly Tutsi army slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Burundian Hutus after assassinating the country’s first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, who was also its first democratically elected president.

Rwanda’s role in the conflict

Over 200,000 refugees have fled Burundi since the violence began in the capital in the last week of April. In November, Jeff Drumtra, a former U.N. official at Rwanda’s Mahama Refugee Camp, told Pacifica’s Flashpoints Radio that he had documented the Rwandan government’s conscription of Burundian refugees into a new rebel army to fight in Burundi.

Drumtra said he had submitted his documentation to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, so neither the U.N. nor the major powers will be able to say, at a later date, that they were unaware of the recruitment. Rwanda denied Drumtra’s allegations, but Refugees International confirmed them in its December report, “Asylum Betrayed: Recruitment of Burundian Refugees in Rwanda.”

The African Union Annual Summit

News reports quoted the presidents of Equatorial Guinea and Gambia, as they arrived at the annual African Union Summit on Jan. 29, 2016, stating that they opposed the deployment of African Union troops to Burundi without Burundi’s consent. Senegalese diplomat Ibrahima Fall, the African Union’s special representative to the African Great Lakes Region, later told Radio France International that deploying AU troops without Burundi’s consent was “unimaginable.”

The African Union Annual Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The decision regarding Burundi was announced after a closed door meeting, without a voice or roll call vote.
The African Union Annual Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The decision regarding Burundi was announced after a closed door meeting, without a voice or roll call vote.

“It was never the intention of the African Union to deploy a mission to Burundi without the consent of Burundian authorities,” he said. “This is unimaginable. If the position of these two leaders (Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema and the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh) is based on this misunderstanding, it is hoped that gradually more communication takes place and that dialogue may settle on these issues.

“Probably one of the conclusions – because currently these conclusions are tentative – one of the final conclusions of the meeting this Friday will be sending a high-level delegation to Burundi to speak with senior Burundian authorities and initiate a conversation on this issue.”

Opposition to the deployment was not even brought to a voice or roll call vote. A.U. member nations no doubt realized that if they authorized the deployment without Burundi’s consent, unwelcome A.U. troops might be sent across their borders as well.

Article 4(h) of the African Union Constitutive Act provides that the A.U. has the right to intervene in a member state in “grave circumstances, namely, war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity,” but, had it been approved, the deployment to Burundi would have been its first use.

Charles Kambanda, Rwandan American lawyer and former law professor (at the National University of Rwanda), said: “The A.U. heads of states appear to have properly analyzed the situation in Burundi. It’s clear that the A.U. Peace and Security Council, pressed by the E.U. and U.S., who are desperate for regime change in Burundi, did not do serious research – legal and political – for their naive proposal to force A.U. troops on Burundi. Once again, President Kagame and his partners-in-crime, who sought to use A.U. troops to grab control of Burundi, have been defeated. The truth, not propaganda, will prevail.”

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at anniegarrison@gmail.com. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.

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