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The PSC in search of credibility and balance in dealing with Burundi
29 March 2016

The credibility of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) suffered a blow at the last African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa when the heads of state and government at the PSC summit on 29 January rejected the possibility of deploying a preventive force in Burundi without the consent of the government.

Among the decisions taken by the PSC summit was the sending of a delegation of heads of state to meet the Burundian stakeholders.

High-level delegation replaces the PSC field mission

On 25 February the long-delayed PSC field mission in Burundi was replaced by the dispatch of the High-Level Delegation of Heads of State and Government, led by South African President Jacob Zuma and composed of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania; Macky Sall of Senegal; Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon; and Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia. The mandate of this delegation was, according to an AU press release, ‘to consult with the Government, as well as with other Burundian actors, on the inclusive dialogue and the deployment of the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), if accepted by the Government of Burundi’.

The long-delayed PSC field mission in Burundi was replaced by the High-Level Delegation
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The cancellation of the PSC field mission created the impression that the PSC was no longer the relevant body to take decisions on the security crisis in Burundi. Therefore, heads of state would be directly involved in any new initiative regarding this crisis.

It appears that Burundi was lobbying for the deployment of the delegation of heads of state. Moreover, PSC member states are said to have found it ‘illogical’ to have a field mission preceding a delegation of heads of state. Therefore, it was decided to cancel the field mission.

Confusion on the primacy between the high-level delegation and the PSC 

The high-level delegation called for the following actions in its communiqué:

  • Dialogue with all stakeholders without preconditions
  • Support for President Yoweri Museveni as the East African Community (EAC) mediator, and a call for him to set a date for the immediate resumption of the inter-Burundian dialogue
  • An increase in the number of AU personnel in Burundi to 100 human rights observers and 100 military experts
  • The restoration of international aid if the situation improves in order to encourage the government and people of Burundi to remain engaged in the inclusive dialogue
There is a dispute around the first point in the communiqué, which calls for dialogue without preconditions
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There is a dispute around the first point in the communiqué, which calls for ‘dialogue without preconditions’. The Burundian government insists that it will only talk to those political parties and opposition groups that are committed to a peaceful outcome, which in its view excludes the main opposition coalition, the Council for the Observance of the Constitution, Human Rights and the Arusha Peace Agreement (CNARED).

After the departure of the heads of state, the Burundian government issued its own communiqué reasserting its openness to dialogue with ‘peaceful stakeholders’ in line with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2248. The Burundian government’s position was strengthened by the fact that the declaration read by Zuma in Bujumbura referred to ‘an inclusive dialogue between important stakeholders’ – leaving room for interpretation. The Burundian foreign minister subsequently asserted that the government was only bound by the declaration read by Zuma. He stated on the government’s Twitter account that the ‘AU Commission [which] is the Secretariat does not change the decisions of Heads of State and Government’.

PSC reaffirms its primacy

The PSC communiqué following its meeting on 9 March 2016 ended the speculation regarding the pre-eminence of the statement read by Zuma and the press release of the AU Commission. The council endorsed ‘the conclusions of the visit of the AU High Level dialogue as contained in the Communiqué issued at the end of mission’. Moreover, the council attempted to reaffirm its primacy and its role in the Burundian crisis. It stressed ‘its determination to fully play its role and take all necessary measures for the promotion of peace, security and stability in Burundi, in conformity with its mandate, as stipulated in the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU’.

The reference to the protocol is a subtle reminder to the Burundian government that all options remain on the table – including the deployment of an African mission. This stance is in line with the AU statement that the envisaged deployment was ‘premature’, while its relevance was not questioned. 

Towards EAC Plus? 

The high-level delegation called for active AU support to the mediator (Museveni) appointed by the EAC. However, the lack of results of the mediation efforts led by the Ugandan president certainly played a role in the appointment by the EAC of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa as facilitator. Two factors explain the creation of this new position in the mediation team.

The human rights observers and military experts will monitor the border with Burundi's northern neighbour
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First, it is an acknowledgement of the fact that Museveni was not fully involved in the mediation due to the recent elections in Uganda. Therefore the division of labour between the mediator and the facilitator is described as such: the facilitator will be in charge of the day-to-day management of the talks but will report to the mediator. The appointment of Mkapa illustrates the growing role that Tanzania intends to play in Burundi. (President John Magufuli was re-elected as EAC chair for another year.)

These changes inside the mediation illustrate the divisions within the region on the Burundian crisis. The call by the high-level delegation for ‘active support to the facilitator’ can be read as a sign of the AU’s willingness to play a greater role in the negotiations in order to mitigate the effects of the divide among the EAC member states. Almost a month after the high-level delegation’s visit to Burundi on 25 and 26 February, a date has still not been set for this inter-Burundian dialogue.

The search for a balancing act

One of the main outcomes of the high-level delegation’s visit was the agreement by the Burundian government that the number of human rights observers and military experts would be increased to 100 each. The impression created by the communiqué is that the Burundian government agreed to sign the Memorandum of Understanding defining the modalities of action of these personnel. This can be described as a victory for the AU’s efforts in Burundi.

However, in response to the concerns raised by Burundi about Rwandan support for armed opposition parties, these human rights observers and military experts will monitor the border with its northern neighbour, which is what the Burundian government has been calling for.

The heads of state also called for the resumption of development assistance to Burundi if the situation was to improve. These provisions could be considered as concessions to the Burundian government and could fuel the perception of an unbalanced approach detrimental to the opposition.

In Bujumbura, the high-level delegation also refused to address the legitimacy of Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term in office and did not mention the hypothetical deployment of MAPROBU.

Two concessions were made to the opposition: the call for an inclusive dialogue without preconditions (stated in the AU communiqué on the visit) and the decision to meet stakeholders who were outside the country. However, it remains to be seen whether these decisions will really be implemented in light of the continuous rejection by the Burundian government of an inclusive dialogue without preconditions.

The cautious approach by the heads of state and the PSC seems to support the government and does not provide enough incentives to dissuade some parties from resorting to violence, which would be the worst-case scenario for Burundi.

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