In December last year, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council announced the intended deployment of 5 000 AU troops to Burundi, where political protests against a third presidential mandate have plunged the country into its worst crisis since the end of the civil war.
The African Charter on Democracy and Human Rights allows the AU to deploy troops to a member state with or without the government’s consent, but this is first time that the AU has invoked this right.
The Burundian government has rejected the initiative, going so far as to say that it will actively fight AU troops. A final decision will be made at the AU General Assembly at the end of January.
Meanwhile, talks between the government and the opposition were due to resume this week in Arusha under the auspices of the East African Community, but disagreement over a start date and the participants have delayed this until 15 January.
This week’s View on Africa was presented by Stephanie Wolters, head of the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis division. She discussed the various dynamics of the crisis.
- Time is of the essence. Internationally-mediated talks have stalled, killings of civilians continue, and regional tensions are rising.
- A leaked memo from UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous indicates that the UN could not prevent large-scale civilian deaths should the instability evolve into full-scale civil war or genocide.
- Given existing conflict in the region, the prospects for regional instability in either of those scenarios are great.
- Under such circumstances, the deployment of an AU force is key to de-escalating tensions and providing neutral monitoring of the armed opposition and the government security forces.
- At the same time, the Burundian parties must start hammering out the way forward.
What to watch
- Next week the UN Security Council is sending a mission led by France, the US and Angola to Burundi.
- In two weeks’ time, the AU Assembly of Heads of State will vote on the proposed deployment. A two-thirds majority is necessary to secure approval, and will likely be difficult to achieve.
- The force will still need to be approved by the UN Security Council and must garner sufficient international funding for deployment.
- The AU will also have to find countries – likely from the East African region – willing to put boots on the ground in Burundi.
- Regional economic sanctions could be one mechanism to exert pressure on the Burundian authorities to accept talks between government and the opposition. The question is whether regional and African leaders have the political will to act boldly on Burundi, and to live with the precedent such action will set.
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