14 December 2018

East Africa: Museveni, Nkurunziza in Strong Exchange

Kampala — President Museveni and his Burundian counterpart Pierre Nkurunziza have, within a week, exchanged strongly-worded letters that reveal simmering division between East African Community (EAC) member states.

In a December 4, 2018, letter to Mr Museveni as current chair of EAC, President Nkrunziza called for emergency meeting of the regional leaders to resolve what he called as Rwanda's "aggression" against his country.

"In addition to the fact that Rwanda has prepared and supervised the coup d'état of 2015, the coup perpetrators and other criminals have taken up residence in Rwanda where they receive support to attack Burundi, crossing Rwanda-Burundi border or via the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as getting assistance and travel documents to enable them to circulate in the region and even in Europe," he wrote.

Rwanda yesterday declined to comment on the allegation contained in Mr Nkrunziza's letter copied to EAC member states' presidents John Magufuli of Tanzania, Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Mr Kagame is also the chairman of the African Union.

"I cannot talk now. Leave me out," Maj Gen Frank Mugambage, the Rwandan ambassador to Uganda, said by telephone last night.

President Nkrunziza, in his letter to Mr Museveni, noted what he termed persistent machinations by Rwanda against his country, including the alleged breach of its airspace.

"It is, therefore, very urgent for the East African Community to focus on the real problem that is jeopardising peace and security throughout Burundi. It is Rwanda, a state party to the treaty establishing the East African Community, which is not at its first attempt to destabilise its neighbour, Burundi, in violation of the fundamental principles of the community ... ," he added.

Rwanda on the spot

This newspaper could not independently verify the claims broached by Bujumbura, but it was on the agenda of the flopped November 30, 2018, EAC heads of state summit in Arusha.

There was an attempted coup on May 13, 2015, against President Nkrunziza while he, at the time, was out of the country for an EAC heads of state summit in Dar es Salaam.

"In short, Rwanda is the only country in the region that is one of the main destabilisers of my country and, therefore, I no longer consider it a partner country, but simply as an enemy country," the Burundian leader wrote.

Kigali has broadly denied any involvement in subversive activities against its southern neighbour, even when Burundi has lodged similar complaints with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the AU.

The plan to overthrow the Burundian leader, which Bujumbura in the letter to President Museveni blamed on Kigali, was thwarted at the last minute through, according to highly placed sources, cooperation of two EAC member states. Nkrunziza has since the foiled coup largely remained within the borders of his country.

The resulting tension nudged the regional bloc to designate Mr Museveni as chairperson of the Inter-Burundi Dialogue, a regional effort to restore peace and security in the country at the time engulfed in civil unrest that threatened to snowball into full scale civil war.

Former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa was, however, tapped as a direct facilitator of the initiative, placing him in the frontline to conduct shuttle diplomacy in various capitals and between rival groups on behalf of the dialogue chair.

He submitted his report which, among others, describes the political situation in Burundi as concerning; raises question about the internal National Commission for Inter-Burundian Dialogue (CNDI) established in 2015, ignores Bujumbura's indictment of Kigali and, recommends talks between President Nkrunziza's government and dissidents, including the alleged coup plotters.

The perceived spurning of the concerns, fuelled by the Mkapa report calling for dialogue with opponents, has prompted Mr Nkrunziza to decree that no outsider should interfere in his country's internal matters.

"The only body authorised to evaluate the implementation of the Arusha agreement [which ended Burundi's previous war] is the Burundian senate. Any other interference would be to overthrow this institution elected by the people [of Burundi)," he noted.

These terse comments attracted a strongly-worded rejoinder by President Museveni, who accused Bujumbura leaders of, among other things, manipulation of the regional bloc; "use it when it suits you and discard it when it does not."

"Your line of saying that the EAC is usurping the sovereignty of the Burundian people by wanting to know the latest in the evolution of the political situation in Burundi, may not be correct," President Museveni wrote.

He added: "There is the historic treaty of Arusha Agreement, which the region guaranteed. What does 'gurantee' mean? It means that you take interest to be sure that what was agreed is on course. It may not be correct for only one party, the Burundi government, to tell all others (the EAC) and some Barundi elements that are even living outside that everything is on course and you have no right to inquire. Respecting inter-state agreements, even when they impact internal situations, may not be interference. It is only what was agreed."

Senior presidential press secretary, Mr Don Wanyama, was unable yesterday to confirm whether Mr Museveni authored or sent the letter to his Burundian counterpart, saying he was not an addressee to know whether it was authentic or not.

Absent at EAC summit

President Nkrunziza and Rwanda's Kagame did not attend the November 30 EAC heads of state summit, which President Museveni chairs, prompting its deferral to December 27 in order to give member states sufficient preparation time after some claimed it was convened at short notice.

The failure by Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan to have representation at the meeting at the highest levels of their governments has prompted some analysts to spot fissures in the bloc and cast gloom about its future.

In the December 8 response, President Museveni "totally agreed" with Mr Nkurunziza that the "tension between Rwanda and Burundi should be discussed," but noted that the bigger focus should be "prosperity of our people and the strategic security of the African people."

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