The African Union has let Burundi Down

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“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace” Jimi Hendrix

It is everyone’s dream to live in a peaceful country and enjoy the protection of its government and enjoy the rights and privileges that there are. Citizenship is a source of great pride for it gives someone a sense of belonging. While holding on to that dream, we got to ask this rather obvious question, WHAT IS PEACE? The question may sound rhetorical or rather simplistic but its answer may not be that obvious or simplistic. Why you may ask, because Burundi is still searching for an answer to peace.

In my search for the meaning of peace I came across two definitions, but I’ll pick one. Peace is freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.” They say, peace is the greatest asset to humanity and lack of it is the worst weapon and may be a recipe for mass destruction to irreparable proportions. Lack of peace breeds war, hatred, contempt, discrimination, suspicion and evil generally.

For those of you reading this, chances are you have not experienced a situation where you have been forced to flee out of your country due to war/violence. Probably the only thing that has made you step out of your country boarders is going for a vacation to a fancy destination or searching for greener pastures. Chances are you do not know the price for war and violence. You don’t know how it feels to walk into a strange country in search for asylum. You do not know how tormenting it is when you meet your persecutors who were after your life even after crossing borders. The point I am making is that the definition for peace in my opinion may be relative depending on an individual and circumstances.

In the recent times we have witnessed violence, wanton killings and political impunity in Burundi. 2015 especially saw Burundi descend into chaos, forcing mass displacement of people to neighbouring countries in thousands. The consequences of war and violence have been profoundly brutal. Ethnicity has been mobilised for political and military purposes, pitting communities against each other and tearing apart the social fabric of Burundi. The causalities have steadily risen while Africa is sitting and watching as one of its babies is bleeding. The atrocities have not elicited any genuine response from the African leaders. Yet we dare say Africa has solutions for its own problems. Innocent children, women and men are being slaughtered. The Black-Eyed Peas in their song ‘Where is the Love?’ sang “People killing, people dying. Children hurt and you hear them crying. Can you practice what you preach? Or would you turn the other cheek… whatever happened to the values of humanity. Whatever happened to the fairness and equality? Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity. Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity….. If love and peace are so strong why are there pieces of love that don’t belong?’’

Innocent Burundians who have been robbed the protection of their country, have fled into neighbouring countries in search for asylum owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of belonging to a particular social group or by virtue of holding a different political opinion from the ruling party/government. It is reported in the news that the government has deployed armed youths affiliated to the ruling party, National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) (Imbonerakure youth wing) to hunt down and kill anti-Nkurunziza protestors opposed to the president and his bid for a third term. Out of despair those fleeing are unwilling to avail themselves to the protection of their country or return to their boarders because the imminent fear of persecution.

In my line of duty, I have interacted with persons of concern fleeing from Burundi into Kenya to seek asylum. Their stories can only be described as a nightmare bordering scenes of a horror movie. They are running away from an authoritarian leader who has hang on to power and has refused to let go. A leader who once vowed to lead a revolution of peace and change but has instead presided over mass ethnic killings without a care in the world.

In Burundi I see a country colonised by a dictatorial regime with insatiable appetite for power. A regime that does not give a damn about democracy. A regime that does not care about its people. A regime that has no listening ear to those who dare give a piece of advice. We are in an era rogue regimes have taken it upon themselves to decide how countries are governed and run. They are the players and referees in their own game. You either play along or you are out.

In November 2003, Nelson Mandela while addressing the people of Burundi said, “Do not fail us, do not fail the world. But above all, do not fail yourself and your people. Your country has bled enough. It and its people now deserve enduring peace.” Tragically, 13 years down the line Burundi is still unsettled. Things are just the same, old ways have not changed. The dark clouds are still hanging and the promise of a new dawn is still a fairy-tale. It is a crying shame!

While every country and people must work out and find the solutions appropriate to their circumstances, as a continent, Africa has a role to play in ensuring a lasting solution and everlasting peace returns to Burundi.

Ironically, Africa has chosen to politicise every situation and blame everybody for their problems without a care in the world.  The people of Burundi have been left on their own while Africa has concentrated its energies plotting an exit out of the ICC. Instead of addressing the urgent situation in Burundi the African Union has turned a blind eye and chosen the essay way, to play the victim and swim along to the politics surrounding the ICC to adopt a proposal by President Uhuru Kenyatta for the AU to develop a road map for the withdrawal of African nations from the Rome Statute.

President Kenyatta in his wisdom or lack of it (the later applies) is busy rallying African States signatory to the Rome Statute to make a ‘statement’ as it were that reflects Africa’s refusal to be carried along in a system that has no regard for the sovereignty of nations and tramples on the security as well as the dignity of Africans.

The proposal to withdrawal from the ICC comes at a wrong time when some African states are is facing human rights atrocities. The question I dare ask, is Africa committed to protect and promote human rights and reject impunity?

African governments played a vital role in setting up the ICC and their commitment has ensured that millions of victims of human rights abuses across Africa and around the world have access to justice. A proposal to withdrawal from the ICC will therefore send a wrong signal because it directly contradicts the values of protecting and promoting human rights which is central to the African Union itself.  For a moment these values will be washed down the drain by a few countries solely interested in protecting their own leaders, Kenya being one of them.

While the politics surrounding the purported withdrawal from the ICC takes center stage innocent Burundians are still hopeless and their only hope perhaps is divine intervention. But I dare say, all is not lost. It is not all doom and gloom. If Nkurunziza thinks working with the opposition is impossible, they need only consider the recent history of South Africa, where former bitter enemies, Mandela and de Klerk established a government of national unity and jointly laid apartheid to waste. If it was possible in South Africa, it is possible in Burundi. If it was possible for Mandela and de Klerk – and the soldiers under their command – it is possible for Nkurunziza.

Burundi will not get peace if Africa sits and watches. South Africa did not achieve its peaceful transition on its own. Sustained political, moral and economic pressure by the international community contributed enormously to getting the negotiations going.

It is about time that Africa rose joined hands in averting the growing humanitarian crisis in Burundi. Africa cannot sit and watch as an abusive regime dictates the terms of holding itself to power.  Africa can rise to protect one of its own. Africa shall rise against war. African can find solutions to its own problems. Nobel Peace Laureate, Desmond Tutu once said “God is weeping because people were made for inter-dependence and love. Hatred is not a natural condition; it is manufactured and propagated by people. It is a condition that can be turned on its head by good leaders.” It is about time that Africa put its act together!

By Victor Ondieki.

Forced Migration Programme.

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