Rwanda: Burundi President's Kinshasa 'Gaffe' Exposes His Intentions for Rwanda - Analysts

22 January 2024

The comments by Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye on Sunday, January 21, when he said Rwanda was to be blamed for the insecurity in the Great Lakes region were described as a surprising gaffe for a head of state.

Ndayishimiye, who was in Kinshasa, DR Congo, for the inauguration of President Felix Tshisekedi on Saturday, spoke to Congolese youth about issues of security in the region. The Burundian head of state, who is the African Union's Champion for Youth, Peace and Security Agenda, said it was necessary to continue the fight until Rwandans begin to stand up.

"I think that Rwandan youth cannot accept to be prisoners in the region," Ndayishimiye said.

Relations between Burundi and Rwanda took a hit in early January, when Ndayishimiye's government unilaterally closed the border after accusing Rwanda of supporting a Burundian armed group based in eastern DR Congo to destabilise Burundi.

Rwanda denies it has ties with any Burundian armed groups.

Ndayishimiye joined DR Congo's Tshisekedi in blaming Rwanda for the insecurity in eastern DR Congo. During his campaign, Tshisekedi said he would declare war on Rwanda, if re-elected. In December 2022, he said Rwandans "needed" his "support to liberate themselves," comments that analysts called an attack on Rwandan leaders.

According to Amb. Joseph Mutaboba, Rwanda's former envoy to the United Nations, Ndayishimiye's close relations with Tshisekedi at a time of insecurity in the region could only worsen the situation.

"The security situation in the Great Lakes region is not necessarily in its best shape as opportunistic alliances are being born out of hate speeches, blatant discrimination, greed and selfish interests," Amb. Mutaboba said.

"Walking away from national interests and national unity in Burundi and DR Congo can only exacerbate lack of peace, security and development both in those countries and the region particularly when leaders of Burundi and DR Congo choose to blame their Rwandan peers for every failure they've committed in broad light."

The Rwandan government has not reacted to the Burundian president's comments.

However, in a post on X, Rwanda's envoy to the Netherlands, Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe, said it was "unacceptable" that an African president, who is the AU Champion for Youth and Peace and Security, "promises an African people to help overthrow their legitimate government."

"This is not only an incongruous diversion of his mandate conferred on him by his peers during the African Union Conference in February 2023, but above all a flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the Charter of our continental organization," Nduhungirehe said.

Rwanda has shown a lot of restraint

For Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a researcher and political scientist, Ndayishimiye's comments might not have any impact on the already tense relations between Rwanda and Burundi.

"Ndayishimiye's comments while speaking at an AU event is obviously a gaffe, a surprising one for a head of state," Mutebi said.

"I don't know how they will affect relations between Rwanda and Burundi. But, so far, Rwanda has shown a lot of restraint in the face of similarly inflammatory remarks in the recent past. I doubt his comments will have any noticeable impact on security in the region. It won't improve or worsen as a result."

Diversion from national issues

Analysts linked Ndayishimiye's siding with Tshisekedi belligerent rhetoric with the current economic situation in Burundi.

"Speaking to the Congolese youth in Kinshasa under the AU flag worried me most as the content did not reflect any search for real aspirations for peace, security and development both at home and in the region," Mutaboba noted. The political analyst noted that the AU and Congolese youth ought to remember that the Burundian leader "betrayed his peers" - East African Community (EAC) leaders - when he was its chairperson, by sending troops to DR Congo when the regional bloc had deployed a mission there with a Burundian contingent.

"He betrayed his people when he sent his troops to fight in the Congo under Congo's flag and uniform. He has a long series of crimes and shortcomings to respond to instead of diverting the Congolese youth who know their counterparts in Burundi are being exploited to serve his own interests instead of the Barundis' interests," Mutaboba said.

Meeting Nyatura militia leader

While in Kinshasa, Ndayishimiye was also seen shaking hands with Robert Seninga, the head of Nyatura militia, which is aligned to the FDLR, a DR Congo-based genocidal outfit whose leaders are linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and is blamed for the persecution and murder of Congolese Tutsi communities.

The Congolese army is accused of collaborating with the FDLR in the war with M23 rebels in North Kivu province.

"Ndayishimiye's meeting with Seninga, the head of Nyatura, speaks volumes about his intentions and long-term dealings with the FDLR. History will tell more," Mutaboba said.

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