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Burundi and the purveyors of blood

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Pierre Nkurunziza

Pierre Nkurunziza

THE crisis rocking tiny Burundi following the refusal of the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza, to relinquish power after serving the mandatory constitutional two terms re-echoes the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which nearly a million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in a matter of four months. It was one horrendous ethnic cleansing the world had ever witnessed, which was perpetrated by purveyors of blood in Rwanda. President Nkurunziza should repeat history. He should allow peace to reign in Burundi, a country that has always been in turmoil. There can be no peace if he imposes himself on the people for a third term tenure.

The reported coup in that country was a logical consequence of the president’s insensitivity; it is instructive of what is in the offing. President Nkurunziza knows how volatile his country and indeed that sub-region are before dabbling into a risky third term bid. It is like playing with fire. There would have been no coup if the president had kept fate with the constitution. The coup, deaths and unfolding refugee crisis could have been avoided.

President Nkurunziza should be held responsible for whatever happens in Burundi. He seems geared towards plunging his country into a crisis in the manner many power-drunk African despots had done in the past. These are the so-called leaders that give Africa bad name. The bloodbath has just begun and floods of hunger-stricken refugees are crossing into war-ravaged neighbouring countries. That region is ever in turmoil either from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and DR Congo. Adding a fresh crisis from Burundi is an anathema.

Can anyone tell Nkurunziza to retrace his steps? Can the world rise up now and nip the brewing bloodbath in the bud before it gets out of hand? A president that practically depends on foreign aids should be forced to hearken to those that feed him. Everyone should not keep quiet, fold arms, pretend to be unconcerned and allow Burundi to go into conflagration. When that happens, everyone would start running helter-skelter seeking diplomatic and political solution to the problem. The time to act is now. It is baffling that the world always stands aloof while crisis brews only to wake up when it is too late. All the crisis rocking different countries could have been prevented if necessary actions were taken on time.

The world should not forget the endemic ethnic rivalry in Burundi. When the ethnic hatred flares up, the Hutus and Tutsis would take up arms, cutlass and cudgels to slaughter themselves. By then, the African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and others would be forced to wake up. That would add to Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, etc. The problems are preventable at this stage before a president, whose country literally lives on foreign handouts causes havoc.

We hope that Nkurunziza is not inching to re-enact the Rwanda genocide in Burundi and earn the undignified tag of a purveyor of blood. That would be most unfortunate for a leader of a poorest country that has largely not known peace in its history. Rwanda and Burundi have a lot in common by virtue of their ethnic composition comprising the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis.

Given the fact that Nkurunziza is presiding over a country in a most volatile sub-region, the experience in Rwanda and the unending crisis in neighbouring DR Congo that quite often spills into Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, it is foolhardy for him to do anything that would stir up violence. If Nkurunziza loves his country, he ought to focus on leveraging the poverty-stricken population rather than embarking on a selfish ambition that would bring ruin to the hapless population.

By his actions, Nkurunziza may be on the road to infamy, re-enacting the despotic culture of bye-gone tyrannical African leaders who plunged their countries into ruinous violence. Neighbouring DR Congo and Somalia are typical examples. Many other African countries are reeling from the throes of autocratic leadership that only brought woes to the countries. Nkurunziza should retrace his steps, make a U-turn and uphold the democratic ethos enshrined in the constitution.

Indications that Nkurunziza has stirred the hornets’ nest, a recipe for death and blood came to light in the wake of the attempted coup. Reports say Major General Godefroid Niyombare, an erstwhile ally of the president, last Wednesday, staged a coup sacking Nkurunziza, who was away in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to attend a peace summit on the crisis in his country.

After the coup announcement, nothing was heard again from Gen Niyombare but Gen Cyrille Ndayirukiye, spokesman for the putschists told newsmen that the coup failed because they were over-powered by soldiers loyal to the president.

Expectedly, the coup sparked off fierce fighting in Bujumbura, the capital, between soldiers loyal to the president and the coup plotters. The fight centered round the state’s radio and TV stations. The airport was occupied by the coup supporters. Five soldiers were reportedly killed. Streets were deserted as people ran helter-skelter for safety.

There was confusion on the whereabouts of the president. While his spokesman, Willy Nyamitwe, said the president had left Tanzania on his way back home, there was no further information on whether he returned or not.

My apprehension was heightened when news reports indicated that the presidential plane could not land in Bujumbura due to security reasons. That reverberated the circumstances that sparked the Rwanda genocide in April, 1994, when the airplane carrying the Rwandese President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down on its descent in Kigali, Rwanda.  That triggered the most vicious genocide in Rwanda.

Soldiers, police and militiamen went into a slaughtering spree of key Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) comprising mostly of Tutsis was fighting a civil war that pitched it against the Hutu-led government of Habyarimana. The plane crash served as the launching pad for the execution of Tutsis who were accused of shooting down the Hutu president. What could have happened if President Nkurunziza’s plane went down amid the crisis?

The people of Burundi are weary of unending turmoil. Nkurunziza should be patriotic enough to save his country from another bloodbath.


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