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IRIN - Rwanda


Prison or deportation: The impossible choice for asylum seekers in Israel

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 12:43:19 +0000

Just two months from now, the Israeli government says it will begin indefinitely imprisoning asylum seekers who refuse deportation. IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod explores what this means for the tens of thousands of people now facing an uncertain future.   After escaping torture in Sudan, after walking 11 hours through the Egyptian desert, and after handing almost all his money to men with guns who blocked his way, Adam slipped through an opening in a border fence and laid down on the sand.   The respite didn’t last long.   The 24-year-old told every Israeli official he met – first soldiers, then officials at a detention centre – that he was seeking safe haven.   It didn’t go down well, as Adam recounts calmly from his Tel Aviv kitchen table.   “I told them, ‘I’m a refugee’. They said, ‘we don’t have a place for refugees here’.”   “I asked for the UN… They said, ‘here in Israel we don’t have the UN’.”   “I said, ‘so let me go back’. They said, ‘no’.”   Little did he know it would go so badly that four years later he would be labelled an infiltrator and that, as an unmarried, childless male with no official refugee status, he would be high on the list for deportation.   Adam, who told IRIN he was tortured in prison in Sudan for refusing to fight in the military, has fallen foul of a new Israeli government plan to rid the country of the 38,000 African asylum seekers inside its borders.   A new policy The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Tel Aviv has been overrun by “illegal infiltrators” who, it maintains, are largely responsible for driving up poverty and crime in working class southern parts of the city.   Starting the first of April, the government says it will give the asylum seekers – more than 90 percent are from Sudan and Eritrea – the choice between prison and “voluntary” deportation. Those who agree to leave will be given $3,500 (this sum will decrease after 1 April) and reportedly then be sent to Rwanda or Uganda, although both governments have denied entering into agreements with Israel.   Asylum seekers began making the trek to Israel in the mid-2000s. Between then and 2014, when the country fortified its border with Egypt, Israel’s policy towards new arrivals has changed often. It gave them visas – renewable every few months – that read, “this permit is not a work permit”, but opted not to fine employers who hire them. It sent men to indefinite detention in a series of centres, until the high court limited this to a year in 2015. It has also paid asylum seekers to leave the country – reportedly via secret deals with Rwanda and Uganda (believed to be the destinations in this latest push). Forced deportations haven’t been officially announced, but at least one of Netanyahu’s ministers has said they’re on the table. When he announced the new policy at a January cabinet meeting, Netanyahu spoke of the “plight of the long-time residents” and said his new deportation plan was aimed at, “restoring quiet – the sense of personal security and law and order – to the residents of south Tel Aviv, and also those of many other neighbourhoods”. Welcome to the medina South Tel Aviv has become a hive of controversy – and a useful rhetorical tool for politicians – because the government and some locals (but not all) blame poverty and deteriorating conditions on the influx of African asylum seekers, even though one official report suggests state neglect was largely to blame. Most did not choose this city anyway. With a dark sense of humour, and a bit of profanity, Adam explains what his one-way ticket to the Central Bus Station in the south of Tel Aviv was like. Mya Guarnieri/IRIN African asylum seekers sleep in a Tel Aviv park in 2012 After being apprehended at the border – an incident that involved running from a searchlight, losing his shoes, and an act of kindness when a soldier gave him his own boots – Adam [...]

The Grinch’s not-so-festive guide to food ration cuts

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:17:50 +0000

Across much of the world, the festive season is a time of indulgence. But what if you’re too busy fleeing violence and upheaval, or stuck in a refugee camp on reduced rations? It’s been a hard year for the most vulnerable among us. This is partly due to tightening aid budgets, but it’s also the result of there simply being so many more people in crisis who need help. “It's not just a question of falling donor funding; most donors have continued to be generous, providing funds at relatively consistent levels for years,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Challiss McDonough told IRIN.  “But the number of [those in need] is much larger.” A prime example is Uganda, where 602,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering. As a result of the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, “we are now supporting nearly twice as many refugees as we were just six months ago”, explained McDonough. WFP, as the global emergency food responder, is feeling the strain. “I'd say there are probably very few countries where we have not had to make some kind of adjustment to our assistance plans because of a lack of funding,” said McDonough. The following is a not-so-festive guide to where WFP has been forced to make cuts to already minimal food rations in Africa. It includes some non-refugee national programmes, which have also been impacted by funding shortfalls. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" id="datawrapper-chart-eFGRg" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> Burkina Faso Rations have been reduced and cash assistance suspended for the 31,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. As a result, about a quarter of refugees do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. “Most refugees in the camps depend solely on humanitarian assistance to survive,” said WFP country director Jean-Charles Dei. “When assistance is interrupted or insufficient, the food security and nutrition situation dramatically deteriorate, especially for women, children, and elderly people.” Burundi Lack of funding has impacted a range of activities targeting vulnerable communities. Food-for-training for Congolese refugees and Burundian migrants expelled from Tanzania and Rwanda has been suspended. The number of children reached through an anti-stunting campaign has been reduced by 70 percent, with the programme halted entirely in Ruramvya and Rutana provinces. Cameroon Monthly food rations for Central African Republic refugees in Cameroon was cut by 50 percent in November and December. The 150,000 refugees are entirely dependent on international aid. In May, WFP also halted its meals programme to 16 primary schools in northern Cameroon due to a lack of funding. Central African Republic WFP has been unable to assist more than 500,000 people in urgent need of aid and has been forced to halve the amount of food it has provided to those it can reach. Emergency school meals have been suspended in the capital, Bangui, and rations to displaced people in the violence-hit central town of Kaga Bandoro have been slashed by 75 percent. “WFP needs to urgently mobilise flexible contributions to cover for distributions from January onwards,” the agency has warned. Chad For the past two years, refugees in Chad have survived on monthly rations well below the minimum requirement. For some, the cuts have been by as much as 60 percent. A joint assessment released in November by WFP and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, found more than 40 percent of the 400,000 refugees in Chad are malnourished and the majority of children are anaemic. Ethiopia Since November 2015, ration cuts have affected more than 760,000 refugees, the bulk of them from South Sudan and Somalia. Although there was an improvement in general food rations from June this year, UNHCR has warned that households still face difficulties. The [...]

Rwandans feel the pinch as Burundi fallout hits home

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 11:20:57 +0000

Walking through Kimironko market in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, you wouldn’t necessarily realise its traders were struggling. Business seems brisk and stalls are overflowing with fruit, vegetables, and huge mounds of dried fish in baskets. But life for some of Kimironko’s traders hasn’t been easy over the past two months.   In late July, neighbouring Burundi banned food exports to Rwanda and restricted movement at border crossings. The step – the latest salvo in a diplomatic spat that began last year when political unrest erupted in Burundi – has left traders like 39-year-old Sabita Silas with produce that is both expensive to buy and hard to sell.   “Nothing is coming from Burundi, and the things that are are very costly because they are smuggled,” he told IRIN. “The oranges we have are from Tanzania. The mangoes are from Uganda. But they are not as good as Burundian fruit. We are very worried about our business because so many things come from Burundi.”   Political dispute turns economic   Tensions between Rwanda and Burundi began to deteriorate when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced last April that he would stand for a third term. Opponents said he was violating the two-term constitutional limit, while supporters claimed his first term didn’t count as he was elected by parliament and not directly by the people.  " People from both sides are really suffering because of the political issues." The move triggered violent protests across the capital, Bujumbura, led to a failed coup attempt in May, and sparked fears of a return to civil war in a country where a 1993-2006 conflict claimed an estimated 300,000 lives. Nkurunziza was duly re-elected in July after the opposition boycotted the poll. The UN says at least 470 people have been killed in more than a year of unrest, while an estimated 300,000 refugees have fled to Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania.   Rwandan President Paul Kagame – himself standing for a third term – has criticised Nkurunziza, who in return has accused Rwanda of recruiting, training, and arming rebels to overthrow his government.   Although Burundi cites concerns over domestic food security as a reason for the trade ban, according to Phil Clark, lecturer in comparative international politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, it is a sign “of just how strained relations are” between the two countries.   “Up until now, most of the antagonism between the two states has been at a high level of politics,” he told IRIN. “It was either the presidents criticising one another, or it was the expulsion of diplomats. I think that the key shift with this trade ban is that it is the kind of thing that really affects everyday people. Communities on both sides of the border clearly relied on that trade enormously, as does a lot the economy in Kigali and Bujumbura.”   Border business dries up   On a Saturday afternoon in Akanyaru, a border crossing in southern Rwanda, restaurants are empty, traders are absent, and people stumble across the border with suitcases on their heads – the result of a ban on passenger buses, introduced by Burundi to prevent smuggling.   “The last time I crossed this border, it was very busy,” said 39-year-old tourist guide Eric, originally from Bujumbura. “People used to cross the border freely to do small trade. Today, you can see, it looks empty. People from both sides are really suffering because of the political issues.”   At a nearby restaurant, 18-year-old waiter Munyeshema Claude told IRIN that his clientele had vanished over the past few weeks. “Burundian businessmen used to come here after selling their products in Rwanda,” he said. “They would use the money they had made in the restaurant. But Burundians aren’t crossing [any more], so there is no money for them to spend.”   Rwandan goods are allowed into Burundi, but trade had slumped even before the recent ban, with businesses citing increased insecurity.[...]

How a city in Tanzania holds the key to peace in Burundi

Wed, 13 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

At some stage, both sides in Burundi’s increasingly bloody political crisis are likely to be sitting across the table from one another in Arusha, Tanzania, looking to agree a political settlement. Arusha, a laidback cosmopolitan city in northern Tanzania, has been the traditional venue for negotiating some of East Africa’s most intractable conflicts. It was where the Burundian government and the opposition CNARED were supposed to be heading last week for talks mediated by the African Union and the East African Community, until the government pulled out its representatives on the grounds that they couldn’t meet with “criminals” and “terrorists”. See: Briefing: What next for the Burundi peace process? Such contretemps are nothing new. After all the purpose of mediation is to put together people who don’t like each other, sometimes with murderous intensity. The Arusha Accords, aimed at resolving Rwanda’s civil war, took a year to hash out: the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi (the document CNARED accuses the current government of trashing) took two years.  In the case of South Sudan, where a peace agreement was signed in Arusha last year and then promptly torn up by both sides, who knows? Why Arusha? It’s ever so slightly schizophrenic. It draws legions of tourists visiting the Serengeti national park, Ngorongoro conservation area, and Mount Kilimanjaro. But alongside the backpackers in sandals and bush camouflage – though rarely literally – are the men and women in power suits representing the other face of Arusha, that of a regional diplomatic hub.  It’s the headquarters of the EAC, hosts the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and until two years ago, was home to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, trying those implicated in the 1994 genocide. Arusha is bucolic enough to avoid distractions, but with the infrastructure necessary for high-level summitry – an East African Sharm el-Sheikh. Why Tanzania? “Tanzania is often perceived as a relatively neutral zone, a relatively positive force in the region,” explained Yolande Bouka of the Institute for Security Studies. Wrapped up in that perception is the still towering figure of Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president.  The guiding principle of his rule – that of independence and African Socialism - was enshrined in the Arusha Declaration, which led to a long dalliance with Scandinavian social democrats. But it was his role in African liberation – particularly in southern Africa – for which he is rightly lionized. That also led to a partnership with Nelson Mandela over Burundi that was key to ending the 12-year civil war, in which Mandela domestically took a unilateral decision to send South African troops to protect returning political leaders. What was the Burundi agreement? Its aim was to end the conflict and cycles of massacres, including genocide, dating back to Burundi’s independence in 1962. Central to the agreement was trust. In broad terms, what was required was for the Tutsi minority to give up the army they dominated as a guarantee of their physical survival, and for the Hutu majority to see the democratic process as a way to win representation without resorting to arms.  According to Paul Nantulya of the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the mediation “sought to balance two extremely complex questions. The first was how to guarantee full political participation by the minority Tutsi population even when its prospects for winning competitive elections would remain slim in the foreseeable future? The second was how to alleviate the deep mistrust of the Hutu majority in the armed forces?”  Resolving that conundrum rested on a power-sharing formula based on minority over-representation and coalition-building; protocols providing for the equitable participation of all parties in the three branches of[...]

Uganda feels the strain of the Burundi crisis

Mon, 11 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

For the past three years, the war raging across Uganda’s northern border in South Sudan has been pushing its refugee-hosting abilities to breaking point. But it is now the simmering violence to the south in Burundi that could tip the situation over the edge.  “We are overwhelmed and overstretched,” Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, told IRIN. “We have to meet the dire needs of these people… [but] we already have high numbers of refugees in the country.” Uganda is sheltering 173,747 South Sudanese who have fled the war being waged between supporters of the country’s President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, and now 18,427 Burundian refugees have crossed its southern border, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. Overall, Uganda offers protection and safety to more than half a million people who have fled their homes and is the third largest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia and Kenya. Burundi’s direct neighbours – Tanzania and Rwanda – have been hardest hit by its deepening political crisis, taking in 175,000 and 75,000 refugees respectively. The UN estimates 400 people have died in Burundi’s political violence since April, the vast majority slain in opposition strongholds of the capital, Bujumbura. The fear in places like Kampala is that if the Burundian situation degenerates further or collapses into all-out civil war, it will be the entire region that suffers the consequences. “We are definitely facing a huge humanitarian crisis,” Reverien Mfizi, a doctoral candidate in political science at State University of New York at Buffalo, told IRIN. “So far, more than 200,000 people have fled the country and are living in precarious conditions in refugee camps. Obviously, the failure to find a negotiated agreement will likely increase the risk of civil war.” Far apart The ingredients are certainly there for worse to come.  President Pierre Nkurunziza’s representatives refused to attend peace negotiations last week in Tanzania with leaders of Burundi’s umbrella opposition group, CNARED. See: Briefing: What next for the Burundi peace process His government accuses CNARED of involvement in a failed coup attempt in May, which was designed to stop him from achieving a third term. Nkurunziza won re-election easily in July, after the opposition, which claims he had already served the maximum two terms allowed by the constitution, boycotted the polls. Nkurunziza’s ruling party accuses CNARED of recruiting refugees in neigbouring countries to wage war on Bujumbura – pointing the finger specifically at Rwanda as offering direct support. A report last month by Refugees International seems to substantiate this claim. According to Ecweru, more than 20 former high-ranking Burundian officials who have fled Nkurunziza’s government are also in Uganda. Burundi has not only rejected dialogue but also the deployment of an African Union intervention force, MAPROBU, aimed at supporting a political settlement. Regional diplomats are trying to pick a way through the deadlock. Regional pressure grows AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has been in talks with Bujumbura to enable the deployment of MAPROBU. In a potentially telling move, Tanzania, a long-standing supporter of the government, has agreed to provide 5,000 troops for the peacekeeping force – the first East African country to do so. “The AU has suggested that a Pan Africanist force should be sent to Burundi to help in the situation,” Uganda’s Defence Minister Chrispus Kiyonga told reporters on Friday. “People are dying. There are people who are going outside Burundi, fleeing as refugees, both elites and poor people. “That situation needs to be stabilised and [the country] needs to be brought back to order. So it’s in that spirit that we of the AU think we should come to the assistance of our brothers and sisters in Burundi.” Kiyong[...]

Congo’s forgotten war: The militia of Mambasa

Fri, 08 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

In spite of the death more than a year ago of key commander Paul Sadala, known as “Morgan”, his Simba militia continue to wreak havoc in Mambasa, a vast territory of more than 35,000 square kilometres in Ituri Province, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. On the night of 5th and 6th of December, armed militiamen attacked two Mambasa mining facilities, located between the towns of Niania and Isiro. During the attack, 47 people were kidnapped, one woman was gang-raped by nine assailants, and a horde of valuable goods was carted off into the forest. This was just one of several incidents in December. Some 40 other civilians, most of them women, were also kidnapped from the Bakaiko mining area, also by Simba militia. “We have no news of these hostages,” Alfred Bongwalanga, administrator of Mambasa Territory, told IRIN. And this doesn’t seem to be the end of the violence in the region, which is home to some 500,000 people. In mid-December, Simba militia distributed leaflets threatening to attack two other localities: Mabukusi and Epulu. “The security services have collected leaflets from several different villages,” Bongwalanga told Radio Okapi. “It’s just like what already happened in Makubusi. They warn us in advance before carrying out their assault,” he said, referring to a previous attack on that village in November. A thriving militia Mambasa civil society president Kiski Maulana told IRIN that Simba militia attacks across Ituri Province over the past year have seen hundreds of civilians, the majority of them women, abducted – many of them also raped. The militia also burn down people’s huts, forcing them to move. “Since Morgan’s death (in April 2014), two other leaders have taken the helm, Manu and Mangaribi, close allies of the former rebel chief,” said Maulana. “Until these two leaders are apprehended, the Simba militia will always be active.” The Simba militia is a broad term for several Mai Mai groups operating in the region. The number of fighters is unknown. According to Bongwalanga, they are most active in Bakaiko, an isolated region located where the territories of Mambasa, Béni, and Lubero intersect. “Here, they surround mining areas and villages, kill a certain number of civilians, kidnap others, rape the women, and steal valuable goods, like minerals,” he said. Local journalist Wasukundi Makeom, from the community TV/radio station Mazingira, told IRIN that the Simba militia are simply criminals, lacking any obvious political agenda. Maulana agreed. “They have no clear ideology,” he said. “All they do is sabotage the efforts of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage site that occupies about one fifth of the Ituri forest). These are simply criminals involved in poaching and the trafficking of natural resources: notably minerals and wood. They have no desire to one day rule Mambasa.” “And to get arms and weaponry, they attack the Congolese soldiers tasked with protecting certain mining facilities and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve,” added Bongwalanga. “They are obviously doing well, because there are now fewer soldiers on these sites.” ‘To be a woman is a misfortune in Mambasa’ Human rights group GADHOP has been documenting cases of sexual violence against women perpetrated by Simba militiamen, recording 150 abductions and rapes in 2015 alone. These aren’t just traffickers of natural resources, these are also groups waging a campaign of sexual violence, explained GADHOP permanent secretary, Jérémie Kasereka Kitakya. “When they surround the mining areas and the villages, they also take the fleeing women to their camps and use them simply as sexual slaves, and that goes on for several months,” Kitakya said. Last September, IRIN travelled to Manguredjipa, in the neighouring territory of Lubero, and met up with a group of women who had just escaped from the Simba militia and wh[...]

As body count mounts, Burundi talks ever more urgent

Tue, 15 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Once again, photos of bodies, some of them bound, on the streets of Burundi’s capital have travelled the world. All the more shocking because this country, thanks to its troop contributions to various UN military missions, is regarded as an exporter of peace. The night of 10 December began in total calm, even if atrocities committed in the city’s Cibitoke district the week before still loomed large in the minds of many: at least five people had been killed, two of them recently sprung from prison, where they had been held for taking part in demonstrations earlier in the year against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s (eventually successful) bid to run for a third term in office. The authorities had deemed the protests to be an insurrection. At around 4am, as the sun was about to rise, a crackle of automatic weapons echoed from a military base in Ngagara, and from the Higher Institute of Military Cadres, both in the capital. In the interior of the country, another military base was attacked, according to army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Barazuta. Come daybreak, bodies again littered the streets. People stayed at home rather than head to work for fear of being caught up in the security forces’ hunt for the “enemies” – the vague term used by the army for the attackers, who were said to have tried to get their hands on weapons and to free prisoners held in Bujumbura’s main jail. Eighty-seven people were killed during those few hours, among them four soldiers and four police officers. Some of the bodies, many of young people, were found on Saturday and Sunday on the streets of the Nyakabiga district, some eight kilometres or more from the attacked military bases. Witnesses said security forces ordered some people out of their homes and summarily executed them – an account repeated by the European Union. “The young victims were executed at point-blank range, shot in the head. Some were tied up,” said Nibitegeka Cyriaque, a lawyer representing victims’ families. Security agents “knocked on the door of our house in Nyakabiga,” said one man who fled the country the following day. “They told us to open up, but we refused. A little later we heard explosions in neighbouring houses and even in our house. We heard people screaming, our neighbours, and when we went out, we saw their bodies on the ground in a pool of blood.” These operations took place in parts of the city known for their opposition to Nkurunziza’s third mandate. Who was behind the attacks? On Saturday, one David Nyenyeri, who described himself as a colonel and spokesman for the armed opposition, said such groups would continue to oppose the government with force. Nyenyeri, who was hitherto unknown to most Burundians, did not name the groups in question, but said there were several of them. He was speaking on Radio Publique Africaine, which has operated clandestinely since it and several other media houses were destroyed after the May coup attempt. Meanwhile, neighbouring Rwanda has repeatedly denied that it has been recruiting Burundian refugees on its soil into a new rebellion. This charge was extensively set out in a recent report by Refugees International, an advocacy group. It has also been made by authorities in Burundi. Kigali, meanwhile, has long complained that Burundi has turned a blind eye to, or even encouraged, the presence on its territory of members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group led by remnants of those who carried out the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The FDLR has since been based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which shares borders with both Rwanda and Burundi. Aside from Nyenyeri, there has been very little communication from anyone within the armed opposition, and no one to reach out to discuss their motives, ideology or plans. In June, General Leonard Ngendakumana, among those who staged a botched coup the [...]

Burundi crisis gets serious for regional leaders

Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Burundi’s political crisis is centred on a leader who is refusing to leave office after almost 10 years. The man sent in to mediate has been in power for almost 30. Apart from that irony, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s arrival in Bujumbura underlines just how high the stakes are for regional leaders. As the increasingly violent events in Burundi continue to unfold, its neighbours are watching ever more closely. Since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in April, protests have killed dozens and displaced more than 145,000. In addition to confrontations between security forces and demonstrators, clashes between the military and armed groups have reached a new peak with a report from the army spokesperson on Monday claiming that 31 rebels had been killed in northern Kayanza province, close to the Rwandan border. Concern goes further than refugees spilling across borders. Several heads of state in the Great Lakes region are seeking third terms or have been in power for more than 10 years. What happens in Burundi, a member of the East African Community (EAC) since 2007, could have serious ripple effects. The presidential election has been postponed until 21 July, after African leaders called for a two-week delay to the original 15 July poll date. Local and parliamentary elections were held on 5 July. Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party overwhelmingly won, taking 77 out of a possible 100 seats. The elections were boycotted by the opposition, and the European Union and the African Union withdrew their election monitors, claiming the election could not be free or fair. See: Journalism in Burundi is a high-risk job As tensions build ahead of the presidential poll, IRIN looks at the positions of the key regional and international actors:  Uganda On 6 July, President Museveni was appointed lead mediator by EAC heads of state. He arrived in the Burundian capital Bujumbura on Tuesday to begin mediating a new round of talks. While he has the blessing of the president, the opposition has so far rejected his nomination as mediator. Museveni, who has now been president of Uganda for 29 years, is a problematic choice. In 2005, he eliminated term limits through a constitutional amendment. In 2016, he will seek his seventh term in office. At home, the Ugandan leader also frequently clamps down harshly on opposition groups and those opposed to his rule. Even since assuming his role as Burundi mediator, he has arrested two prominent opposition leaders in Uganda. “Domestically, Museveni does not have a track record of being conciliatory to his own opposition. And so the Burundian opposition is looking at his track record in Uganda when they think of his role as mediator,” Yolande Bouka, researcher in conflict analysis and risk prevention at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN. “I’m not quite sure that the process will go further with him at the helm.” However, Bouka noted that the opposition is unlikely to be able to persuade the Burundian government and the EAC to change mediator, partly because of disunity in its own ranks but also because Museveni is unlikely to be moved by their demands. “I would be very surprised if Museveni recused himself because of opposition pressure,” Bouka said. “I don’t think the EAC is as responsive to this kind of pressure as the United Nations.” Two UN-appointed mediators to the Burundi crisis have already stepped down following government pressure. Tanzania Tanzania has historically played a large role in peace negotiations in Burundi and the country has seen an influx of nearly 77,000 refugees since the crisis in its much smaller northeastern neighbour began. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete hosted the latest EAC peace talks, and Nkurunziza was in the Tanzanian city of Dar-es-Salaam for a heads of state summit on the Burundi crisis in M[...]

What now for Burundi? Five key risks

Wed, 13 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Hours before an army general in Burundi announced he had relieved President Pierre Nkurunziza of his duties, a small group of experts were making predictions before a packed audience in Nairobi. Tensions had been building for a fortnight in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, where police repeatedly clashed with protestors demanding Nkurunziza abandon his bid to run for a third term in the presidential election set for next month.  A coup d’état was one of the contingencies being discussed in Wednesday’s morning meeting, but those gathered at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) event couldn’t possibly have known what was about to happen. That afternoon, with Nkurunziza away in Tanzania attending a regional summit on Burundi’s crisis, Major-General Godefroid Niyombare, a former chief of army staff recently sacked from his post as head of the national intelligence service, went on the radio and made his announcement.  Rival army factions then began fighting each other and on Thursday afternoon they were still battling for control of the state broadcaster.    Any further escalation or militarisation of the current crisis could result in the commission of mass atrocity crimes. The biggest concern now is that the decade of peace Burundi has enjoyed since the end of a 1993-2005 civil war could unravel, prompting fresh waves of refugees and spreading conflict to neighbouring countries.   “The stakes for Burundi but also for the wider region are high,” Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director of Amnesty International, told the seminar. Here are five key risks: Ethnic tensions The civil war pitted rebels from Burundi’s Hutu majority (85 percent) against a Tutsi minority that dominated government and the military. This imbalance was addressed in the 2000 Arusha Accords that eventually ended the war and established ethnic quotas in the army and the government. The divisions during the recent unrest have not been so much Hutu-Tutsi as between supporters and opponents of Nkurunziza, who was a rebel commander during the war. There have been reports, however, that the government has portrayed its opponents as being mostly Tutsi, and also rumours that the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, have been targeting Tutsis. Nkurunziza and Niyombare are both Hutus. Jackson said a coup might revive ethnic tensions and lead to tit-for-tat attacks between the Imbonerakure and the youth wings of other parties. The civil war began with these kinds of hostilities. Regional proxy wars Rwanda’s president has asserted that fighters from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have crossed into Burundi “and might get involved directly” in the unrest there. The FDLR have been in the DRC since 1994, when some of its fighters were involved in the genocide in Rwanda. Its raison d’etre remains the overthrow of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. Remarks by Kagame critical of his Burundian counterpart’s handling of the situation have been interpreted as a veiled threat to send troops across the border.  “The last thing we want to see is for the Burundi crisis to develop to the point where the Rwandan government feels it has the need or the legitimacy to intervene,” said Jolanda Bouka, an analyst at ISS. “We need to pay close attention to the FDLR but also to remnants of the M23 and to how groups could be used as proxies if this takes on a more regional character,” said Jackson, referring to the mostly Tutsi, Congolese rebel group that surrendered in November 2013. Rwanda has repeatedly denied backing or orchestrating the M23. Refugee outflows Even before the coup, many Burundians had fled to the country’s neighbours: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. Many said they were afraid o[...]

How fragile is Burundi's peace?

Tue, 21 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

The number of Burundians who have fled abroad to escape pre-election violence has swollen to more than 12,000 in less than a month, and they are taking with them allegations of murder, torture and intimidation by ruling party thugs. A 13-year civil war between 1993 and 2005 claimed an estimated 300,000 lives. International alarm bells are ringing, amid fears that the fragile peace could unravel over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s presumed bid for a third term, which many see as unconstitutional. The UN Security Council has warned that the June 26 elections could “spur violence and undermine the peace sustained for almost a decade.” The US State Department urged all parties to refrain from “hate speech, violence, or other provocations, that could feed the climate of fear and instability.” But this “climate of fear and instability” has already caused many to flee: 9,521 to Rwanda and 2,740 to the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the latest count by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. IRIN spoke to several refugees after they entered Rwanda. Many said they had fled for fear of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the president’s party, widely described as a militia and a law unto itself. "Innocent people will die" Dieudonne, a 36-year-old mechanic, said his family members had been targeted because they were known supporters of Hussein Radjabu, a political rival of the president’s who was sprung from jail in March. “Since March this year, arms have been distributed to members of Imbonerakure in our village in Kirundo province,” Dieudonne said. “Those (Imbonerakure) who knew my family as Radjabu sympathisers visited us on March 12 and threatened us.” Dieudonne said the militiamen claimed to have killed before and threatened to kill them if they didn’t support Nkurunziza. He decided not to hang around and took his family to Rwanda for safety. “The biggest problem is that guns are distributed to civilians who can do anything for simple inducements,” he said. “Burundi is at a crossroads because some people are determined to defend the constitution yet the president is also determined to extend his rule. Innocent people will die.” The government denies arming the Imbonerakure. What chance of free and fair elections? Sixty-five people who took part in a demonstration last week to protest against Nkurunziza’s plans to run for a third term have been charged with insurrection. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in jail. In its latest report on Burundi, the International Crisis Group warned that it is increasingly unlikely that the local, parliamentary and presidential elections will be free and fair. A “return to violence would not only end the peace that was gradually restored after the 2000 Arusha [Peace and Reconciliation] Accord, but would also have destabilising regional implications and would mark a new failure in peacebuilding policies,” the report warned. Photo: Ignatius Ssuuna/IRIN Mothers line up to register their children at the centre for Burundian refugees at Bugesera The governor of Burundi’s northern Kirundo province, Révérien Nzigamasabo, attributed the exodus to “political motives” and implied many were only going because UNHCR vehicles were “parked on the border to ferry the refugees” with “well-prepared rations to feed them.” The refugees, however, told a different story. “On February 20, strange people came to my house,” said Didier. “Fortunately, I was not in. But they took my brother, whom they accused of campaigning for other political parties, instead of working for the ruling party.” "How will they be held accountable by the same people who send them to commit crimes?" The 34-year-old farmer said they were later told that his brother had been shot dead while attempting a robbery. “We hav[...]