The Chinese Vice President made a three-day visit to Burundi last week. A breath of fresh air for Bujumbura.
Strengthening its cooperation in the fields of education, energy, mining and infrastructure was Beijing’s priority for a three-day visit to Bujumbura. But it goes well beyond that since China has always changed its attitudes. In addition to infrastructures such as schools, roads, bridges, and very recently the presidential palace, Beijing promised budgetary and humanitarian aid without any compensation. Two agreements were signed at the end of the visit.
There is first of all this budgetary support of more than 200 million yuan, or $ 30 million and a humanitarian donation of 5 thousand tons of rice, in addition to the 5200 tons that China has granted to Burundi at the end of 2016.
"It is true that these 30 million dollars are not very much compared to the amount given by the European Union, but it is a fine sum for Bujumbura in serious lack of currency," said one analyst. "And with the drought, the harvest has not been good, hence the need for this cereal support", he said.
Money, rice, but not only that
This three-day visit of four Chinese Government officials is a strong symbol for Bujumbura. Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao was accompanied by Deputy Minister of Education Du Zhanyuan alongside Assistant Foreign Minister Qian Hongshan. There was also Wang Bingnan, assistant to the trade minister as well as Xu Yanhao, Vice president of Science and Technology Association.
Burundian Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Aimé Nyamitwe hastened to say "a high-level delegation" speaking of "a historic visit". According to him, this visit is a testimony of a country that has recovered its security.
Beyond the prestige of this move, Bujumbura can also boast of having a friend in the UN Security Council. In this regard, China Vice President said that his country has always supported the efforts of all developing countries including Burundi, in order to defend their national sovereignty and combat any external interference.
Since the beginning of the Burundi crisis in 2015, several motions for resolutions on Burundi have been submitted to the UN Security Council. Most of them have been blocked by China which vetoed.
Coincidence with the European Union Day
The Chinese delegation arrived in Bujumbura on 10 May, while the EU delegation was celebrating the European Union Day, a coincidence that did not escape observers. Some even compared the dissimilarity of the languages of these two powers.
The Head of the European Union delegation, Ambassador Wolfram Vetter, has noted that the situation in Burundi has not yet normalized. He referred to security which is superficial and fragile, a rhetoric very different from the Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, who says Burundi is safe and stable. An echo to the rhetoric of the government in place that always says that peace is a reality and that there is no crisis in Burundi.
The country is under sanctions taken by the EU since March 2016. The European Union, whose aid accounted for 20% of the budget decided to freeze the direct aid granted to the Burundian government. The European Union has always demanded the respect of the Cotonou Agreement by Bujumbura. The agreement was signed by African states, including Burundi on the one hand, and the European Union on the other hand. Article 96 stipulates that the parties undertake to respect democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law.
For the Head of the European delegation, conditions have not yet been met to resume budget support to the Government of Burundi. "Human rights violations, cases of torture, disappearances continue to be reported. The political and media space as well as civil society are greatly reduced, "said Vetter.
In any case, since the European Union has suspended its financial aid, Burundi seems to be looking for new allies. It began to attract Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and of course China, a campaign of seduction that has not yet filled the gap created by the EU.
It is worth reminding that Burundi has had significant visits since the beginning of the crisis .On 22 February 2016, the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited the country. Shortly after him, from 24 to 25 February 2016, a high-level delegation of the African Union, with the presidents of Senegal, Gabon, Mauritania, South Africa and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, arrived.
And China in all this?
The great world economic power that sends its Vice President more or less "at the bedside" of Burundi which fights against bankruptcy may seem on the face of it unlikely. It’s known that apart from its concern to help widows and orphans, China also works in terms of profit.
So, why is China interested in Burundi, the poorest country in the world?
"It is not as poor as that," says an analyst. The discovery of rich soil, minerals like coltan, nickel in addition to Lake Tanganyika makes it coveted. Without forgetting and perhaps we had to start with that: its strategic geographical position. Burundi has a door that opens towards its rich neighboring country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also has a key to the East African Community. And its advantages have not gone unnoticed; China takes advantage of the inaction of the European Union and the United States to "position itself" to conquer the Great Lakes and the EAC.