Earlier this month, the latest round of the Burundi peace talks ended abruptly without an agreement.
The Burundian government refused to acknowledge there was even a crisis that needed to be resolved. It claimed to have prepared a roadmap to the 2020 elections itself – with input from opposition figures it recognises – and refused to listen to the opposition representatives in the talks.
The collapse of dialogue was of a little surprise. These were fourth rounds of failed negotiations since 2015. In April of that year, the country was thrown into chaos by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he was running for a third term. Many believed this move to be unconstitutional and in violation of the 2000 Arusha peace agreement. There were mass protests and a coup attempt before the July presidential elections.
Retaliatory atrocities and violence followed. UN reports documented ethnic incitement, mass graves and systematic violations. The African Union Commission on Human and Peoples Rights recommended the establishment of a Special Tribunal to investigate war crimes. Half a million citizens fled to neighbouring countries. In October 2017, an International Criminal Court (ICC) chamber allowed formal investigations into alleged crimes against humanity committed by supporters of the state.
It was amidst this unrest that the East African Community (EAC) set up peace talks. Uganda served as a mediator with Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa as the lead facilitator.
The violence still continues in the country but the regional negotiations have repeatedly failed, and for a good reason. During Burundi’s last conflict, the Arusha Accords that eventually brought the 1993-2005 civil war to an end were widely commended. But by contrast, the current process – referred by some as the “Arusha monologue” – has suffered from bias on the part of the mediators as well as a fundamental misdiagnosis of the problem in the first place.