Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza seems to be stalling the East African Community-led mediation process, while also pushing a political agenda to remove a key part of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement (also known as the Arusha Accords) that limits presidential terms.
Facilitated by former Presidents Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela, the Arusha Accords helped end 12 years of civil war, massacre and genocide that occurred in Burundi between 1993 and 2005. The Arusha Accords, which require presidents to rule for just two terms, ushered President Nkurunziza into power.
If President Nkurunziza succeeds, he will render the EAC mediation process useless and call into question Africa’s capacity to resolve its own conflicts. The EAC-sponsored mediation process started in July 2015, but has not delivered any solution so far.
The talks got a boost in September from China’s $200,000 donation. But the take-off of the talks has been too slow, with former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa’s team telling The EastAfrican that the earliest the Burundi government and the opposition can start talks is November.
"We still have a lot of ground work to do before the different parties can start talking," said Macocha Tembele, Mr Mkapa’s personal assistant.
The Burundi government has stalled the process by refusing to appear for talks, arguing that some stakeholders should be excluded.
The process of removing term limits could infact start in December.
In a report titled The African Union and the Burundi Crisis: Ambition versus Reality the International Crisis Group (ICG) says that the government in Burundi is currently plotting to change the Constitution and abolish term limits.
The process to remove term limits from the Constitution started in 2015, when a commission of inquiry was formed to conduct a national dialogue that would help chart the country’s political future.
Justin Nzoyisaba, chairman of the Inter-Burundi Dialogue Commission, was quoted in August as saying the views so far collected across the country favoured the removal of term limits.
Those familiar with the workings of the government say the commission will complete its work and present its findings to parliament in December, after which the debate to remove term limits will begin.
President Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for a third term sparked civil unrest that has caused the death of hundreds and forced thousands to flee to neighbouring countries. And according to the ICG, allowing President Nkurunziza’s government to amend the Constitution will keep Burundi in a permanent state of low-intensity violence that could degenerate into another civil war.
"Though the 2020 election cycle seems far off, international actors should press harder for a political settlement. Postponing firmer, more unified action would leave the country at best in a permanent state of low intensity violence," says the report.
ICG says the government has realised that keeping casualties to a minimum limits scrutiny.
Without continued scrutiny, the ICG predicts that the government in Bujumbura will continue to rebuff the EAC-led peace negotiation and that the African Union should get involved in trying to restore peace to Bujumbura.
Some of the engagements suggested include changing the financing mechanisms for the African Union in Somalia. The AU would pay Burundian soldiers directly, instead of through the government. The AU is also being asked to impose sanctions against Burundi to force it to engage in talks.
The EAC’s hands are tied because Burundi is an equal member of the Community, with the same veto powers as the other partner states.