Burundi: can AU succeed where the UN has failed?

South African President Jacob Zuma, is one of the 5 African heads of state tasked to forge dialogue in Burundi.

South African President Jacob Zuma, is one of the 5 African heads of state tasked to forge dialogue in Burundi.

Following the failure of all efforts to bring stakeholders in in the Burundian crisis back to the negotiating table in bid to find a lasting solution to the devastating conflict, the African Union has decided to take matters in its own hands by appointing a five-member high-level delegation to try and forge dialogue and end the deadly violence.

Last week, the AU chairperson and the President of Chad, Idriss Deby appointed five heads of States representing the five African regions. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania is due to represent the North Africa region, Jacob Zuma of South Africa has been chosen from the Southern Africa region. Macky Sall of Senegal from West Africa, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon from Central Africa and Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia from the Eastern Africa are joining forces to mount an aggressive push for dialogue in Burundi.

The delegation is expected to persuade the government of Burundi to accept the proposed 5000-peace keeping force, after the failure of the UN Security Council and the African Union to convince President Pierre Nkurunziza and his government to back the measure. The five Heads of States forming the delegation are expected in Burundi in the coming days for consultations with the Burundian Government and other players.

One noticeable absentee on the delegation is the Ugandan leader, President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni was appointed by the East African Community in July last year to help facilitate the stalled talks but he hasn’t been able to get Burundian leaders to talk peace.

He has met the warring parties in Bujumbura and recently in Entebbe Uganda and counseled them to put “interests of the Burundian people first” but no progress has been made on talks’ front.
It is important to note that prior to Museveni taking over mediation, two UN-appointed facilitators had been rejected by both the government, and the opposition.

Weeks into the conflict in Burundi, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon dispatched Special Envoy, Saïd Djinnit to Bujumbura in hopes the seasoned Algerian diplomat would try and get leaders in Burundi to amicably resolve their differences and prevent an escalation of the conflict. However, Mr. Djinnit was obliged to resign in June 2015, after being accused by the opposition and civil society of government bias, forcing the UN Secretary General to withdraw him.

On June 21, following Djnnit’s resignation, the Special Representative and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa, the Senegalese Abdoulaye Bathily, was then appointed and sent to the country as new mediator. Like his predecessor, Bathily was forced to resign, this time around by the Burundian government alleging he “disrespected the country’s sovereignty.”

The government charged that that, instead of introducing himself to the top government leaders in the country upon his arrival, he just held meetings with the opposition and civil society, hence an open anti-government bias.
These setbacks notwithstanding, the international community maintains the only viable way to end the catastrophic conflict is an inclusive dialogue.

Meanwhile, one of the major sticking issues in the on and off talks is who should take part in them. The Burundian government is strongly opposed to the idea of including members of the opposition in exile. President Nkurunziza and the ruling CNDD-FDD accuse the opposition in the diaspora of taking part in the May 13, 2015 failed coup, and want them extradited for trial.

At the moment, it is unclear how and whether or not the deadly violence will end. The Burundian government claim more than 90% of the country is peaceful but the routine grenade attacks and the soaring death toll tells a far different story. On the other hand the opposition continues to lash at the international community for abandoning Burundians at their darkest hour.

Now, given the fact that President Nkurunziza and his government have been unwavering in their opposition to the proposed African Union troop deployment, and the fact that they have not listened to the pleas by the UN Security Council and those by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will they bow to the pressure of the so called “High Level Delegation”?

If latest AU move fails, what is next for the tiny East African nation?