15 April 2018

Burundi Flag at Full Mast Despite Genocide Memorial

The uneasy relationship between Rwanda and Burundi seemed to be amplified during the commemoration week of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, when the Burundian embassy in Kigali failed to fly its flag at half-mast on the morning of April 7.

As commemoration events kicked off countrywide in the morning, all the other embassies flew their flags at half-mast in remembrance of the over a million lives lost, as the week-long memorial began.

Rwandans on social media expressed their anger at the apparent lack of empathy as the Burundian flag remained at full mast until it was lowered in the afternoon.

Rwanda's State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, later explained that the Burundian officials had simply forgotten to lower the flag.

"The Burundi Embassy forgot to do it early in the morning of April 7, but when they were reminded they complied. At noon (maybe before), the flag was already half-mast," Mr Nduhungirehe told The EastAfrican.

"Lowering the flag is a diplomatic courtesy, whatever the country's opinion on the event. They do what they want. We can't impose a commemoration on a foreign country," he added.

Burundi commemorated the death of its former president Cyprien Ntaryamira, who was killed on April 6, 1994, alongside Rwanda's Juvenal Habyarimana, when a plane they were in was shot down and crashed near Kanombe Airport in Kigali.

Political impasse

Although Rwanda and Burundi share the same ethnic composition and speak a similar language, their governments have consistently been at loggerheads.

Burundi has closed its border to Rwandans since 2015, when its government accused Rwanda of supporting a coup plot against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Volcano Express, a bus service that operated across the two countries has since closed. It now offers transportation to the Kanyaru Border post between Rwanda and Burundi, but is barred from crossing the border.

"There is no business for us now on that route to Burundi," a worker with Volcano Express said. "Passengers who intend to enter Burundi try their luck with the immigration officers and if they are successful, they enter Burundi and find other means of transport."

The political impasse has undermined cross-border trade relations between the two countries.

"There is a shortage of fruit in the market. We used to depend on supplies from Burundi, but the flow was interrupted," Jeannette Uwimana, a fruit vendor in Kigali said.

Burundi stopped Uwimana's local farmers from exporting their products to Rwanda. The products included livestock, fish, palm oil, oranges, passion fruit, bananas and avocadoes.

Burundi has also reduced consumption of Rwanda manufactured products like juices, water, soaps, and recently wheat and maize flour.

"The unilateral decision by Burundian authorities to restrict trade has mostly affected the border communities. They have stopped trading among themselves," said Mr Nduhungirehe.

He said Rwanda has not stopped citizens from establishing businesses in Burundi, and is not restricting Burundians from enjoying the rights established by the East African Common Protocol.

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