Rwanda-Burundi tensions: A balancing act amidst accusations and political maneuvering

By Esther Muhozi
On 6 January 2024 at 08:28

Mixed reactions are surfacing among Rwandans and Burundians, with specific concerns being raised about President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s potential decision to reinstate border closures between the two nations.

This concern arises after Ndayishimiye’s speech on December 31, 2023 (reported on January 1, 2024), where he expressed intentions to close the border again, similar to the period from 2015 to 2021. The primary accusation against Rwanda is its alleged support for the RED Tabara group, suspected of carrying out attacks in the West of Burundi near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

President Ndayishimiye attributes these attacks to defectors from RED Tabara who sought refuge in Rwanda with the aim of overthrowing the Burundian government. Rwanda promptly denied these allegations, emphasizing its commitment to peace and refuting any involvement in actions detrimental to Burundi. Despite Ndayishimiye being initially perceived as a mediator fostering improved relations between the two nations since assuming power in 2020, the sudden shift in his stance has raised questions.

The RED Tabara fighters’ entry into Burundi at the Gatumba border, coupled with the complex route through South Kivu, Congo, raises suspicions about the accusations against Rwanda. This sudden change in Ndayishimiye’s approach is particularly noteworthy given his initial role as a peacemaker between Rwanda and Burundi.

Ndayishimiye’s change in stance can be attributed to three main factors. Firstly, the ideological differences between the CNDD-FDD party in power in Burundi, which identifies itself as Hutu-centric, and Rwanda, which has moved away from ethnic-based politics since 1994. Secondly, the shame, economic challenges, and alleged involvement of the Burundian army in Congo’s affairs, motivated by internal economic issues, including a shortage of foreign currency. Thirdly, the influence of invisible external forces, potentially Western countries opposing the 2021 cooperation agreement between Rwanda and Congo, which included mutual benefits in resource processing and infrastructure development.

This unseen force, reminiscent of previous interference in the region, seems to have played a role in altering the dynamics between Burundi and Rwanda. The agreement signed between Congo and Burundi in July 2023, with Ndayishimiye seemingly sacrificing his role as a mediator in Congo’s issues, reflects this external influence. The narrative of Rwanda aiding RED Tabara, without substantiated evidence, appears to be a result of Ndayishimiye’s alignment with these external forces and his awareness of Congo’s cooperation with the FDLR, a group linked to the Rwandan genocide.

Ndayishimiye’s abrupt change in approach is multifaceted, involving ideological differences, economic challenges, and external influences that have reshaped the relations between Burundi and Rwanda. The situation underscores the complex geopolitical landscape in the Great Lakes region.

Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye.