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Tue. Aug 4th, 2020

Burundi: Stay clear of Rwanda if cooperation is not your priority

Newly elected President Evariste Ndayishimiye expected to fix inherited problems, including diplomatic relations between countries (PHOTO/Net)

By George Kalisa

Rwanda expects and yearns to co-exist peacefully with all nations particularly her neighbours. 

More than four decades or so, even an insane person needs no lecture to know that Burundi has hosted periodic political turmoil and insecurity which explain why millions of Burundian nationals continue to choose to live as refugees in neighbouring countries and beyond. Theirs has never been a choice. 

In the mid-1990s, South African President Nelson Mandela (RIP) spent ample time mediating between the rebel groups that had emerged following the assassination of a short-lived President Melichor Ndadaye in October 1993 that sparked an ethnic-based war between the Tutsis and Hutus that claimed 300,000 lives and forced an estimated one million Burundians flee their motherland, Burundi.

On April6, 1994 President Cyprien Ntaryamira died in a plane crash in which he was aboard with his Rwandan counterpart President Juvenal Habyarimana

Thus, following years of political turmoil, Burundians welcomed a power-sharing deal in 2000, which they enshrined in the country’s new 2005 Constitution. The truce established presidential term limits as well as guaranteeing representation of the two ethnic groups – Hutus and Tutsis in the government. 

Despite what was thought to be a promising political arrangement, the poorest central African country, again, slid back into turmoil following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s (RIP) decision to seek for a third term, violating not only the 2000 peace deal that had ushered in viable and short-lived peace in the country after putting an end to the civil war, but also the 2005 Constitution.

Again, Burundi was plunged into insurrection and serious abuses of human rights that included murder of opposition politicians and innocent people. Nkurunziza’s government established different unconstitutional loyal militias such as Imbonerakure to utterly crack down on dissenting views, human rights activists and media. Thousands of Burundians lost their lives as cracks in security widened.

Inevitably, the world saw another exodus of Burundians into neighbouring countries where they today live as refugees.  

A few lines above explicitly show that Burundi has had internal problems for now decades, which Burundians themselves have to solve without shifting blame to neighbours.

Provocation after provocation

In just a space of less than two months Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) twice had to engage the attackers who retreat into Burundi after defeat.

On May8, 2020, Burundian soldiers started shooting at RDF in Rweru sector of Bugesera District in the Eastern Province. The RDF was ordering a group of fishermen from Burundi that had illegally crossed into the Rwandan waters in Lake Rweru to return back to their country. Retaliation was the only option for Rwanda’s force, according to the military Spokesperson Lt Col Innocent Munyengango. What else would they do, deserving such war mongers, anyway? 

“The borderline between Rwanda and Burundi is a known demarcation line in the middle of Lake Rweru that is easily identifiable using technology like the GPS,” said a statement released by the RDF.

On June29,  about 50 days after the Rweru incident, approximately 100 unidentified gunmen heavily armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and grenades attacked Rwanda 20 minutes into the day.

True, Rwanda had a lockdown before which had, however, long been lifted at the time of the latest attack. The attackers, whose target and intention was to kill civilians in Yanze IDP Model village thought that RDF was perhaps in a lockdown. Sorry for this oversight.

The village is located about 1,000m from the Burundi Border in Ruheru Sector, Nyaruguru District in Southern Rwanda.

Lt Col Innocent Munyengango said the gunfire exchange lasted between 20-30 minutes.

Some slice of my youth memoir. At AngeNoir Night Club (Kampala – Uganda), it was the culture of the DJs to play Ndombolo Ya Solo after midnight, my age-mates and night animals know what I mean. And, I’m sure that the attackers could not afford to wait for another number (tune) after that one, so they withdrew to their dilapidated barracks. Otherwise, there would be none left if the gunfire extended for another 30 minutes.

However, they left behind weapons and a variety of exhibit that suggest that they were Burundians. 

As usual, the attackers fled to Burundi after testing the wrath of the Rwandan military. To the attackers that lost their dear lives in an unjustified attack against Rwanda, Rest in Peace.

“The gunmen attacked from Burundi and they fled back in the same direction towards Burundi military position at Gihisi, Commune Bukinanyana, Cibitoke province. Assailants left behind four of their dead, military equipment that include weapons and communication radios, and dry rations marked “FORCE DE DEFENSE NATIONALE DU BURUNDI” (Burundi Armed Forces). Three of the attackers were also captured. Three RDF soldiers sustained minor injuries,” said the statement.

“We reassure Rwandans that action will be taken against those responsible. We are pursuing, through diplomatic channels, precise information about these repeated attacks,” added the statement released by the RDF.

And, to those that intend to launch more similar attacks on Rwanda, here is some food for thought based on experience as a practicing journalist in the EA region of several previous attacks on Rwanda

One, give RDF a surprise luncheon, they will give you in return to it, an immediate dinner and pack breakfast for you to take home.

Two, if your neghbour marries a beautiful woman after paying many fat heads of cattle as dowry, it is better you work hard to get the dowry and marry your own wife, instead of attacking your neighbour to distabilise their marriage.

Three, it would be imprudent for any person to prepare a banquette with pork and alcohol and waitresses in mini-skirts or hug-me dresses for the Muslim community. They will not like the reaction of the men and women with heads covered by turbans because the Sharia Law cannot be compromised by an inch.  

In a nutshell, Rwanda has just emerged from a heinous history that culminated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, over one million Tutsis died and the economy was shattered beyond recovery.

Only 26 years of hard work, rare resilience, visionary leadership, security and correction of what had gone wrong – it is written in black and white that Rwanda cannot tolerate detractors in all colours to disrupt development and peace within her borders. 

I’m one of the lucky Africans that have lived to see the evening of my life. Why? My mother told me never to play about with fire. The surviving attackers will tell you the story. RDF! I’m not insinuating that ‘F’ stands for fire, but they are duty-minded, patriotic and still uphold liberation values to date and the security of Rwandans cannot be staked at any moment.    

Most analysts agree with me that Rwanda should not be dragged into the problems of Burundi that have lingered on for more than four decades.

Anyway, I congratulate Burundi’s newly elected President Evariste Ndayishimiye upon a landslide victory of 68 per cent of the total vote.

Fellow African, Your Excellency President Ndayishimiye, can you desist from following in the footsteps of your predecessors and seek cooperation with neighbours, and in case of any disagreements, go for diplomatic channels which Rwanda is ready to utilize. 

Rwanda, in my view looks forward to seeing a new Chapter in regard to its relations with Burundi, not only as a partner state of the East African Community (EAC) but also as people who share a lot – socially, historically and economically. 

When a neighbour lives in a grass-thatched house, you would not wish it to burn just because you live in a glass-made house. When the neighbour’s house catches fire, the glasses will certainly shatter and incur a huge loss, too.

For this reason, Rwanda wishes the new leadership in Burundi to fix their internal problems and live as good neighbours again for both EAC countries to gain the advantages that motivated regional leaders to revive the EAC bloc including free movement of people, goods and political stability among others.

The views in this opinion do not in any way represent the view of the government of Rwanda, but are exclusively of the author

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