Johannesburg – South Africa expended immense political capital in achieving sustainable peace in both Burundi and South Sudan – now peace in both countries is unraveling fast.
The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000, mediated by then-president Thabo Mbeki and his then-deputy Jacob Zuma, succeeded in bringing peace to Burundi after the failure of a laboratory of peace initiatives.
In 1997 alone, 13 different negotiators pursued different strategies in Burundi, often working at cross purposes. The African-brokered peace agreement was unusual as it provided military guarantees – military protection for politicians and rebel leaders, and troops to monitor the ceasefire and disarmament process. It is unlikely that any mediators outside Africa would have backed a peace agreement with troops on the ground.
This was a laudable case of African solutions to African problems. It was hoped the trend in Burundian history of hundreds of thousands being massacred in cyclical bloodshed – in 1965, 1969, 1972, 1988, 1991, 1993 – had ended.
In the case of Sudan, Mbeki invested significant political capital in shuttle diplomacy between the opposing sides in Sudan before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was eventually signed in 2005.
The deal paved the way for South Sudan to hold a referendum on independence, and as South Africans, we celebrated when that country became independent in 2011. Today, we watch as both countries teeter on the edge of a precipice, beyond which could lie uncontrolled blood-letting and humanitarian disaster.
This week the UN’s deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson sat down with Independent Media on the sidelines of the AU Summit to share the UN’s perspective on both conflicts, advocating what needs to be done to prevent catastrophe.
Eliasson was apparently the only non-African invited to address the AU Peace and Security Council, and his comments focused specifically on the challenges to peace and security that the situations in Burundi and South Sudan pose.
On the violence escalating in South Sudan Eliasson said: “The situation is extremely serious, and our peacekeepers are under strain. The reports of human rights violations are widespread and appalling.” Eliasson lamented that the pain and suffering experienced by this young nation was tragically eclipsing the promise of its independence.
Eliasson warned we should avoid “forum shopping”, where several mediation efforts continue in parallel.
“The UN will continue its support for the Igad (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) mediation process. The main obstacle to peace as we see it, is the fact that the gulf remains wide between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and (rebel leader) Riek Machar.”
The AU Peace and Security Council also noted with disappointment the continued failure and unwillingness of both leaders to compromise and reach an agreement to end the conflict in their country.
The council stressed that the continuation of hostilities, in total disregard of the suffering of the people, was tantamount to the abdication by the South Sudanese leaders of their most basic duty towards their own people.
Burundi’s leader President Pierre Nkurunziza was not spared similar criticism.
The council reaffirmed its determination to take, in due course, and with the support of the UN Security Council, all the necessary measures against the Burundian stakeholders whose action would lead to the perpetuation of violence and would impede the search for a political solution.
On the conflict in Burundi, Eliasson said: “We are taking our lead from the East African Community. Concrete steps must now be taken to create conditions for credible and peaceful elections. This means security for all, disarming of militias, and freedom of expression for the media.”
Eliasson reminded that it took more than a decade of hard work to consolidate peace in Burundi, and not long ago Burundi was hailed a success story.
“Today we are at a critical juncture. We stand on the verge of controversial elections. It is undeniable the issue of a third term has become a source of tensions and divisions in Burundi.
“If no constructive way forward can be found soon, these divisions threaten to produce yet another serious cycle of violence,” he said.
It would be devastating for Burundi if this year were to be added to the cycle of conflict, resulting in thousands of deaths. It would then be reflected in history as 1965, 1969, 1972, 1988, 1991, 1993, 2015 – an outcome Africa cannot afford.
IOL,By Shannon Ebrahim, Foreign Editor
An X Live Africa News Aggregation Service (http://xliveafrica.com)