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Africa: Ghosts at the African Union Summit

AfricaFocus Bulletin
February 16, 2016 (160216)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Our organisation acts as it has for the past 20 or 30 years: we meet often, we talk too much, we always write a lot, but we don't do enough, and sometimes nothing at all." - new African Union chair President Idriss Déby of Chad

In his commentary on the most recent African Union summit, Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, reflects on "ghosts" haunting the organization's efforts to cope with current crises. Like its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity, the United Nations, and indeed all multilateral organizations, such efforts are profoundly ambiguous, both essential as attempts to mitigate violence but also flawed due to dependence on the political will and vested interests of member governments.

The primary case at issue in Addis Ababa was the ongoing crisis in Burundi, where incumbent President Pierre Nkurinziza's insistence on a third term and violent repression both political opposition and civil society has been widely condemned, as well as evoked armed opposition and a cycle of internal and potentially international escalation of violence.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, in addition to Adebajo's commentary, includes two recent background articles on Burundi, as well as links to other relevant sources. One article, by Edna Buchanan in the International Business Times, profiles the African leaders more recently called on to assist in "mediation," while another article, by Central Africa historian René Lemarchand, contextualizes recent development in the context of Burundi's post-colonial history.

Other recent articles with useful background on the current situation in Burundi include:

André Guichaoua, "What's gone wrong in Burundi's quest for stability," The Conversation, Feb. 2, 2016

"Rwanda seeks to expel Burundian refugees," BBC, Feb. 12, 2016

Stephanie Wolters, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa "Are African heads of state dropping the ball in Burundi?," 2 Feb 2016

Lee Mwiti, "African Union's 'hot air' as it backpedals on Burundi; Nkurunziza pulls off a deadly diplomatic victory," Mail & Guardian, 1 Feb 2016

Jordan Anderson, "Burundi’s cross-ethnic opposition under threat," African Arguments, Feb 16, 2016

For regular updates and links, follow the Facebook timeline of peace activist Jean-Claude Nkundwa (

And, on twitter, Cara Jones (

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Burundi, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Ghosts at the AU Summit

Adekeye Adebajo

Dr. Adekeye Adebajo is Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa, and Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

Guardian (Nigeria) and BusinessDay (South Africa), 8 February 2016.

The recently concluded African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa was a tale of political ghosts. Outgoing AU chair, Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, started off this theme when he told United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, that Africans "are also human, not ghosts." After bemoaning the dehumanisation of Africans, the 91-year old Zimbabwean leader - in power for 36 years - controversially confirmed his president-for-life intentions: "I will still be there until God says, come join the other angels." Mugabe then called for greater African representation on the 15-member UN Security Council, before suggesting that the UN Secretariat be moved from New York to China, India, or Africa. He then told Ban "You're a good man ... but we can't make you a fighter".

Ban ki-Moon was attending his last AU summit to bid farewell to the continent. His ghostly presence praised the efforts of African peacekeepers in Somalia, and health-workers in tackling Ebola in West Africa. Ban's decade in office has, however, not been memorable, and he has confirmed the desire of the powerful members of the Security Council to have a "secretary, rather than a general" in the position. As was said about his Peruvian predecessor, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, the uncharismatic Ban would not make waves even if he fell out of a boat! Under the South Korean's leadership, collaboration between the UN and the AU has been strained in Mali, Darfur, and the Great Lakes, though there has recently been better cooperation in Burundi.

Although cagey about her future, South Africa's AU Commission chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, may also soon be a political ghost in AU terms. She is widely expected to leave in July at the end of her four-year term, eventually to run for the African National Congress (ANC) presidency in 2017.She again pushed her pet projects at this summit: the "Agenda 2063" vision of a borderless Africa in which human rights are respected, and gender parity is achieved. She also championed conflict resolution efforts and self-determination in Western Sahara.

The summit was, in fact, dominated by the AU's efforts to "silence the guns" in Africa. Burundi was the central issue, with the 15- member AU Peace and Security Council having mandated a 5,000-strong military intervention force last December to halt instability in which about 400 people have died and 230,000 refugees have fled into neighbouring countries. AU leaders, however, refused to approve the force which has been vociferously opposed by third-term Burundian president, Pierre Nkurinziza. They called instead for mediation and more human rights monitors. In South Sudan, three past presidential political ghosts are involved in mediation efforts: South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Botswana's Festus Mogae, and Mali's Alpha Konaré, reinforcing the saying that too many cooks spoil the broth. Another presidential political ghost - Tanzania's recently retired Jakaya Kikwete - was appointed as the new AU special envoy to Libya in a bid to support UN efforts to unite the country's fractious parties. Vanquishing the scourge of terrorism was also widely debated at the meeting.

At the same time as the summit, another past political ghost, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, was being tried by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes: the first ever head of state to be brought before the court (Liberia's Charles Taylor had been tried and convicted before a special international court). With all eight of the ICC's cases being in Africa, Kenya - strongly supported by Ethiopia and Chad - led efforts to adopt a roadmap for the withdrawal of African governments from the court. South Africa reportedly repeated its intention to withdraw from the court, following widespread criticisms of Tshwane for its hosting of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir - wanted by the ICC on war crimes charges - at an AU summit last year.

There was an attempt to revive yet another political ghost: the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), whose panel of eminent persons had been chaired by Nigeria's widely respected Adebayo Adedeji between 2007 and 2010. South Africa's Eddy Maloka was appointed as the APRM's chief executive officer at this summit, but only 17 out of 35 countries have been reviewed in 13 years, even as the body struggles financially. The rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa also continued, with both winning seats on the AU Peace and Security Council.

Mugabe handed the chair of the AU to Chadian warlord-president, Idriss Déby, who has been in power for 25 years. Déby lambasted the organisation for relying too heavily on external support for over 90% of its security needs. As he memorably put it: "Our organisation acts as it has for the past 20 or 30 years: we meet often, we talk too much, we always write a lot, but we don't do enough, and sometimes nothing at all."

Burundi: Who are the five heads of state pressed to convince Nkurunziza to accept peacekeepers?

Elsa Buchanan

International Business Time, February 9, 2016

The African Union (AU) has revealed the name of the five heads of state it has appointed to try to convince the government of Burundi to accept a peacekeeping force that its President Pierre Nkurunziza has rejected.

At the January AU Summit held in Ethiopia's Addis Ababa, Ban KiMoon, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN) outlined his goal: for Nkurunziza to return to the negotiating table with the opposition, and for the embattled president to accept the deployment of the 5,000 peacekeeping force, Maprobu, to maintain order.

1.South Africa's Jacob Zuma

Aged 17, Jacob Zuma joined the African National Congress (ANC), once on the United States terrorism watch list, and became an active member of its military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe, in 1962. He was jailed for 10 years on the notorious Robben Island alongside exfreedom fighter and president Nelson Mandela, for "conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government". After prison, he fled South Africa in 1975, but was one of the first leaders to return in 1990 when the ANC ban was lifted. He then participated in negotiations with the white-minority government.

After judges dropped a corruption cases against him in 2009, he was elected president after the ANC won the general elections. The nation's most colourful and controversial president - the proud polygamist's credibility was damaged in March 2014 when an independent inquiry found the government had improperly spent money on upgrading his private residence - Zuma is described as a "man who listens" by his supporters.

While Burundi's Hutus and Tutsis joined the power-sharing government under the 2001 peace deal brokered by Nelson Mandela to end the central African state's 'slow genocide', Zuma is also expected to have an influence on the Burundian negotiations process. Indeed, unlike the more diplomatic terms used by his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, Zuma is reported to have slammed Nkurunziza's third term and proposed the embattled president left his post "even if he had the right to that mandate" for the good of Burundi.

His discourse has recently sounded less resolute - some commentators have attributed the change of tone to the promise of inclusion of a number of South African firms in the processing of Burundi's minerals - but Nkurunziza will still have to face a strong delegate, who has always been keen on negotiations having himself helped Mandela draft Burundi's Arusha Accords.

2. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania

The only military on the panel, Abdel Aziz is a general of the Mauritanian army who seized power in a military coup in 2008 before winning presidential elections with a majority of votes a year later. He was treated in France in autumn 2012 after he was shot in the arm following a bizarre incident in which he was shot in the stomach, apparently by mistake, by his own troops. Military guards at a checkpoint mistook the president, who was travelling back to the capital Nouakchott after a trip to the desert, for a "security threat".

The general won another five-year term in June 2014 with almost 82% of the poll in an election boycotted by large parts of the opposition - a poll described by a delegation of French parliamentarians who observed voting as "honest and regular". In January, campaigners said authorities in Mauritania were leading an increasingly violent clampdown on the anti-slavery movement in a nation where 4% of the population are still enslaved, despite Abdel Aziz's 2014 declaration that no slavery existed in Mauritania.

Seen as an ally of Western powers in the battle against al-Qaida in West Africa, Abdel Aziz is to be representing the North African region and the Sahel during the talks.

3. Ali Ben Bongo of Gabon

The son of the late Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon for 42 years, Ali Bongo was declared the winner of the presidential election on 3 September 2009, three months after his father died. Though the election result was approved by nation's Constitutional Court, opposition described Ali Bongo's victory as "a constitutional coup d'etat". Opposition has long alleged that the Bongo family amassed a vast fortune, with Omar Bongo accused of embezzling oil revenues and bribery.

Ali Bongo, meanwhile, is to represent the central region of Africa in Bujumbura in the absence of 'dictator' Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, who Chadian President Idriss Deby judged as too sensitive to Nkurunziza's claim to "sovereignty". Ever since Burundi's civil war, Gabon has always stood alongside Bujumbura to embark on an all-inclusive and genuine process of dialogue and reconciliation. Burundi's former head of state, Pierre Buyoya, is known to have made numerous trips to the Gabonese capital of Libreville.

However, commentators suggest a more recent event could jeopardise the relationship between both countries. It is believed that Ali Bongo, during his inauguration as president of the Economic Community of Central African States, may have shown his irritation towards his counterpart Nkurunziza with regards to his management of the crisis following the anti-third term protests in Burundi.

Ali Bongo is also known to be a great friend of Burundi's neighbour Rwanda and admirer of its president Paul Kagame's economic management of the country. This could prove tricky amid already sour relations between Rwanda and Burundi, especially after UN experts told the Security Council that Rwanda was destabilising its neighbour.

4. Macky Sall of Senegal

A dedicated member of Senegal's Socialist Party, which had ruled since independence, Sall joined the opposition in 1983 after becoming dissatisfied with the party's misrule.

Alternatively minister of territorial administration, government spokesman and prime minister, Macky Sall was elected in a landslide victory in the country's 2012 presidential elections.

Known for his frankness, calm and diplomacy, Sall is seen as a fine democrat in Senegal, and having been in power for four years, his integrity was applauded when he announced he would seek to shorten his mandate from seven to five years. This would be a first, as current presidents are seen as dreaming to prolong theirs. El Hadji Wack Ly, a lawmaker with the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) said of Sall: "He is a firm man who keeps his word."

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that in West Africa - particularly the Ivory Coast in the 2000s - peacekeeping became the preserve of francophone nations, primarily Senegal.

5. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

Desalegn, who served as chairperson of the African Union from 2013 to 2014, is seen as a leader who speaks little but analyses a lot, but his government has come under fire. Ethiopia is deemed as one of the most heavily censored countries in the world and has also been accused of ruthlessly crushing political opposition and civil liberties.

Last year, however, Desalegn is believed to have annoyed Nkurunziza by allowing for the Burundi's main opposition coalition - the Council for the Observance of the Constitution, Human Rights and the Arusha Peace Accord (CNARED), an alliance-in-exile of several opposition movements - to see the light in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

Desalegn's country is host to the majority of AU summits on the Burundi question, but its military are also secretly expected to replace Burundi National Defence forces serving with AMISOM, the AU mission in Somalia, if the latter were to be banned from the mission. Meanwhile, if the AU peacekeeping force Maprobu were to be established, it is believed that Ethiopian soldiers could be part of the contingent.

In the shadow of genocides past: can Burundi be pulled back from the brink?

African Arguments, January 22, 2016

René Lemarchand - direct URL:

[René Lemarchand is emeritus professor at the University of Florida. He has written extensively on Rwanda, Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, and is the author of The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa, Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide and Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice.]

Rather than the Rwandan genocide, it is the 1972 genocide of Hutu in Burundi that suggests itself as the most meaningful frame of reference for an understanding of the present crisis.

"Can national dialogue break the power of terror in Burundi?" This key question addressed by participants to an international conference held in Bujumbura in May 1994, days after the Rwandan bloodbath, has lost none of its pertinence. Today, as in 1994, Burundi is tottering on the brink of the abyss, and once again the Rwanda genocide casts an ominous shadow on the future of this small, poverty-stricken Central African nation.

Many wonder whether the on-and-off announcement of a dialogue with the opposition can break the cycle of violence triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term, in defiance of the constitution. A replay of 1994, though unlikely, cannot be ruled out.

Burundi shares many characteristic features with its neighbour to the north. Besides its minute size, lack of natural resources, high population density, and a conflicted fault line between Hutu and Tutsi - the former accounting for approximately 80% of a total population of over 10 million - much of the country's history since independence in 1962 has been written in blood.

Where the destinies of the "false twins" differ is in the outcome of the genocidal violence each has experienced. Unlike Rwanda, where the extermination of some 600,000 Tutsi led to the enthronement of the victorious Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), Burundi's seemingly endless enmities were eventually resolved in 2005 through a constitutional compromise based on a power-sharing formula whereby Hutu held 60% of governmental and parliamentary positions and the Tutsi 40%. The army, crucially, was reorganised on the basis of an equal number of Hutu and Tutsi. It is this much touted, pivotal achievement in constitutional engineering that is now on the verge of collapse, and with it the promise of a peaceful transition to plural democracy.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed over the past year, many gangland-style, some by police and security forces, others by the predominantly Hutu youth militia (the so-called imbonerakure, meaning "those who see from afar"), and yet others by still unidentified assassins. A number of opposition politicians, journalists and human rights activists - Hutu and Tutsi - have been targeted or forced to seek asylum abroad. As many as 200,000 are said to have fled their homeland, of whom some 70,000 mainly of Tutsi origins are now living in Rwanda.

The anti-Nkurunziza opposition, fragmented and poorly organised, also bears its share of responsibility in the mayhem. On 11 December, three military bases were attacked by armed men, causing scores of victims. Revenge killings quickly followed. According to a statement issued by the UN refugee agency on 15 January, three mass graves have been identified, containing some one hundred corpses; a dozen women, mainly Tutsi, are reported to have been sexually abused.

Meanwhile, a newly organised armed opposition movement, the Forces Républicaines du Burundi, which is said to comprise a fair number of army defectors, is rumoured to be gaining strength in parts of the countryside. Which if any of the several anti-regime forces may take part in the talks tentatively scheduled to start in Arusha, Tanzania, at the end of the month is anybody's guess. What is beyond doubt is the likelihood of further violence in the weeks ahead.

Echoes of the past

Much has been made of the fact that Burundi has been spared the kind of relentless, ethnic polarisation that paved the way to the carnage in Rwanda. So far the Burundian army - the Forces de Defense Nationale (FDN) - has indeed shown commendable cohesion in the face of mounting challenges to its authority. Yet signs of ethnic tension are unmistakable, especially in those communes of the capital where Tutsi elements predominate.

The composition of the urban landscape is not the only element to consider. Regional parameters need to be taken into account too. Whether there is any truth to government allegations that Rwanda is manipulating refugees in order to destabilise the regime, the possibility of an infiltration of Rwanda-based opponents into Burundi cannot be dismissed, any more than, in last resort, a fullscale Rwandan military intervention should the Tutsi community of Burundi become the target of genocidal killings. Rwanda is both a potential security guarantee for the Tutsi minority as well as the source of its political vulnerability.

Burundi's tormented history is another critical factor. For some Hutu politicians, the killing of Tutsi is payback for what happened in 1972, when an estimated 200,000 Hutu civilians were systematically wiped out by an all-Tutsi army assisted by Tutsi youth militias (the so-called Jeunesses Révolutionnaires Rwagasore). That the carnage was provoked by a locally-rooted Hutu-led peasant insurrection, resulting in the loss of hundreds and possibly thousands of Tutsi lives, makes it no less genocidal in its scale and motivation.

Rather than the Rwandan genocide, it is the 1972 genocide of Hutu in Burundi that suggests itself as the most meaningful frame of reference for an understanding of the present crisis. A surprising number of Hutu politicians - including Nkurunziza and his former head of security, the late Adolphe Nshimirimana, killed in 2015 - lost their fathers, friends and relatives during the 1972 bloodbath.

Often referred to as "the orphans of genocide", they are deeply aware of the horrors endured by their families. Now, as in 1972, the youth militia are a major instrument of violence in the countryside. And again, just as a great many Hutu in 1972 were devotees of the Pentecostal Church, Nkurunziza takes pride in proclaiming himself a "newborn Christian", going so far as to boast, according to one informant, that he was elected to execute God's mission and that he knew about his victory from prophecies way before his election in 2005.

Such God-inspired pretensions bode ill for the chances of a negotiated solution. To expect Nkurunziza to resign as a precondition of the Arusha talks - a key demand of the opposition - is unrealistic. Yet there are other ways to bring creative pressure to bear on the regime so as to induce greater flexibility.

Although the African Union's threat to deploy a 5,000-strong protection mission proved a non-starter, it does signal a significant change of mood on the continent. And added to the European Union's decision to suspend financial aid (accounting for 50% of the government's budget), this should serve as an inducement for the UN Security Council to issue a strongly-worded resolution calling for a multinational peace-making force, possibly under the terms of chapter 7 of the Charter.

The Burundi economy is in a shambles. The country's rapidly shrinking resource base is bound to further undermine the regime's legitimacy, stimulate wider grievances within the security forces, and alienate regional allies. All of which may help mitigate Nkurunziza's trust in Imana - Burundi's traditional designation of the Deity - for the sake of a more rational and potentially more fruitful investment in a negotiated compromise with opposition forces within and outside the country.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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