AU’s inaction on Burundi ‘predictable’

Johannesburg – The African Union’s (AU) decision not to send a peacekeeping force to Burundi has been slammed by a Burundi opposition leader, and called inevitable by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.

“It was predictable that the African Union (AU) would have to back down after Burundi called their bluff,” Jakkie Cilliers from ISS told the African News Agency (ANA) on Monday.

Young men hold a banner on the road that the convoy of the United Nations Security Council delegation took, in Bujumbura, Burundi. Picture: AP Photo. Credit: AP

“Right from the beginning it was highly unlikely that the AU would send peacekeepers. The AU basically set themselves up,” said Cilliers.

Disagreement among AU members, fears of being considered an invading force without Burundian cooperation, no authorisation from the United Nations, setting a precedent, and exaggerated reports of genocide were factors in the AU’s about-turn.

The AU’s 15-member Peace and Security Council (PSC) member states decided in December 2015 to deploy a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in Burundi following reports, by members of the AU Commission for Human and People’s Rights of killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, reported the “defenceWeb” news portal.

Not only was the AU concerned of the human rights violations, but also of Burundi’s civil unrest impacting the region.

Burundi’s unrest was aggravated by President Pierre Nkurunziza entering a third term in office in 2015, exceeding the constitutional two-term limit.

However, on January 29, on the eve of the Assembly of Heads of State meeting at the AU summit in Addis Ababa, the PSC met at the level of heads of state and a very different discussion took place, reported “defenceWeb”.

“Some heads of state and members of the PSC, like The Gambia, openly rejected the deployment of a force without consent from the Burundian government. On the other hand, Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, spoke in favour of sending troops.”

But Cilliers said the AU really didn’t have any choice but to retreat from previous plans.

“If they had gone into Burundi without that government’s approval they would have been treated and seen as an invasion force,” Cilliers told ANA.

“The AU force would first have needed authorisation from the UN Security Council (UNSC) which wouldn’t have been the main problem as the AU and the UNSC cooperate on such matters,” said Cilliers.

Furthermore, the Protocol of the PSC states that heads of African states can mandate such a force being sent into an African country without the relevant government’s approval.

The Constitutive Act that established the AU also says the organisation can authorise such a force in cases of gross human rights violations such as genocide.

“However, there is a huge difference between theory and the practical implications and this appeared to be a bridge too far for the AU and would have set a precedent,” Cilliers told ANA.

The exiled leader of the opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), Jean Minani, accused the AU and the international community of turning their backs on the people of Burundi while, he said the people were being killed by the government of Nkurunziza, reported the Voice of America (VOA).

AU deputy chairman Erastus Mwencha denied Minani’s claims and stated that the Burundian government said it was making progress in all-inclusive talks.

The AU would have had to say that to save face, said Cilliers.

“While Minani does have a point, it’s a question of scale. Yes, there are people being killed and rights abuses but it’s not genocide at this point,” Cilliers said.

“All the AU can do at this point is to move forward with regional negotiations.”