HARARE - Embattled Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has been busy seeking support ahead of the forthcoming African Union (AU) summit amid escalating Western pressure on African leaders to “work behind the scenes” to force the tiny African State to accept the deployment of international troops amid deadly political violence in Bujumbura.
Nkurunziza’s envoys have embarked on an African diplomatic offensive ahead of the annual AU summit in Addis Ababa this weekend, meeting with Zimbabwe head of State and outgoing AU chairman President Robert Mugabe in Harare on Tuesday in a bid to stop the deployment of 5 000 troops to protect civilians.
Nkurunziza claims the plan to send peacekeepers would constitute “an invading force” amid rising concerns the president was frantically trying to whitewash a “genocide” that has already killed over 400 people since his re-election for a third term last year.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition MDC said yesterday Nkurunziza should not be allowed to continue massacring his own people.
“As the world is silently watching, genocide is taking place in Burundi,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Daily News.
“This reminds us of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 where about one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in a short 100 days as the whole world kept its distance.
“Peacekeepers should be immediately deployed in Burundi to avert further bloodshed. The civil war in that country is now out of hand.
“President Mugabe should not come to the aid of Nkurunziza by stopping the deployment of peacekeepers.
“Nkurunziza is a rogue president and he should be immediately stopped from butchering his own people.”
After visiting Mugabe on Tuesday, the special envoys, led by Nkurunziza’s chief-of-staff, major-general Evariste Ndayishimiye, and ambassador Salvato Ntacobamaze, will visit the president of Chad, President Idriss Deby, who is expected to assume the AU chairmanship from Mugabe.
Nkurunziza had sent emissaries into Harare to seek to explain to the authorities his side’s rejection of peacekeepers amid mounting pressure to send some human rights and military observers into Burundi.
Reportedly, other members of the special delegation are already in Addis Ababa where they are lobbying to secure the backing of as many African leaders as possible.
After meeting Mugabe in Harare on Tuesday, Ndayishimiye told reporters: “You know there is a meeting which is going to be held in Addis Ababa. He (Mugabe) told us that they will discuss these issues.
“We have confidence that they will know the reality and they will not consent to send troops to Burundi.”
This comes as US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has said members of the African Union Peace and Security Council expected leaders to endorse the proposed deployment of troops, despite a rejection of the force by Burundi.
After meeting Mugabe on Tuesday, Nkurunziza’s chief-of-staff said: “His Excellency president Mugabe has told us that he is supporting Burundi since a long time and even today he will continue to support Burundi.”
Civil rights activist and analyst Gladys Hlatywayo said Mugabe as the AU chairman should not grant such scandalous requests to veto the deployment of peacekeepers.
“The AU Peace and Security Council have a standing resolution and the AU chair should be seen to be backing that resolution to avoid policy discord and inconsistency,” she said.
“This is a test to president Mugabe since he has been vocal on the need for African solutions to African problems. Whether he has been motivated by a genuine quest for African solutions or an attempt to evade accountability, the jury is still out on that one.”
As the escalating Burundi crisis comes under continental scrutiny for the first time this week, Burundi plans to argue that there is peace prevailing even though the United Nations estimates the death toll at 439 people and more than 240 000 people have fled abroad amid a mounting economic crisis.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha told the Daily News yesterday that it was clear the delegation to Harare was part of Burundi’s AU lobbying to prevent a resolution on sending AU peacekeepers to the strife-torn country, but said the buck does not stop with the chairman.
“So, the decision effectively does not reside with president Mugabe but the AU Peace and Security Council,” he said.
The forthcoming AU summit is being closely watched by Western governments and Washington, given reports that UN envoys met Nkurunziza at his residence outside Bujumbura last week to urge him to agree to mediated talks and an African force, but he flatly rejected the appeal.
“He’s in total denial about the dangers,” said Egyptian Ambassador Amr Aboulatta on the final day of the three-day visit.
Nkurunziza instead accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting rebels by training and arming Burundian refugees recruited on Rwandan soil. Rwanda has rejected the allegations.
Nkurunziza said: “I can guarantee that there will not be genocide in Burundi,” adding that Burundi is “99 percent secure”.