Burundi Massacres: Open letter to East African Community (EAC) leaders Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, John Magufuli and Uhuru Kenyatta

Presidents Pierre Nkurunzinza (Burundi), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) at the Nairobi Heads of State summit on February 20, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE |  NATION MEDIA

Presidents Pierre Nkurunzinza (Burundi), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) at the Nairobi Heads of State summit on February 20, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA

Dear EAC leaders, I hope over the last few days you have learnt about the ongoing massacres in Burundi through your Foreign Affairs advisors, your ambassadors in Bujumbura or through the hard-to-look-at images and footages circulating on social media. And if some of you are clueless about what has befell our brothers and sisters in Burundi then you should set aside time from your busy schedules and keep yourselves abreast of the ominous situation in Burundi.

Speaking of your busy schedules, i think Burundi should be on top of your agendas, as regional leaders, and as human beings, you should (I know you won’t but still I will go ahead and implore you) shelve or postpone whatever you think is your priority and the priority of Ugandans, Rwandans, Tanzanians and Kenyans, and instead work around the clock to address the Burundi turmoil.

Dear Excellences, your fifth and third term bids can wait, your political campaigns can wait, your wars on out-of-control government spending, and on rampant corruption can wait as well. Dedicate all your efforts, energies and time on the Burundi Killings.

To you President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda

Dear, President Museveni, I know you have a lot on your plate now as you traverse your country canvassing for votes, but you ought to remember you are the mediator in the stalled talks to end the conflict. When the East African Community Heads of State Summit entrusted you with the hefty responsibility of facilitating the on and off talks in July, you knew very well what the assignment entailed, and yes you knew you were going to run for president in Uganda. Why accept the responsibility when you very well know you will not get time to do the job? What exactly have you done in your role as mediator? Visiting Bujumbura once and delegating your Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga to take on facilitation has clearly failed the Burundian people. But it is not too late Mr. President.

If you wanted you could still make a difference, it is good you have announced the resumption of the dialogue between stakeholders. As you and your team pursue dialogue, Mr. President don’t hesitate summon President Pierre Nkurunziza and all the players to Kampala (or let them meet at an agreed upon venue) and attempt to get them to talk, make it clear to them that slaughtering each other is not the right way to resolve their political differences.

Mr. President, think about the landmark Arusha Agreement you helped broker more than a decade ago, the lives of Burundians might be at stake but so is your legacy of leading the effort to end the decade-long catastrophic civil war in the Central African state. Mr. Museveni, you are the eldest statesman in the region, all these other leaders respect you, and therefore you need to call them to action, be the Jakaya Kikwete or Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of today.

Mr. Museveni, I read the other day that you will not hesitate to deploy Uganda’s military to Burundi when you finally determined the killings have escalated into a genocide. You really need to fire your State Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem. What an absurd statement!! In other words, you will not send in the UPDF unless the bodies start floating in L. Victoria as was the case with the Rwandan 1994 Genocide?

To President Paul Kagame

Dear President Kagame, like Museveni, you haven’t done much on the ongoing conflict next door, like Museveni you are preoccupied with the preparations for your next election even with a year before the end of your second and ‘last’ term. But unlike Museveni and Uganda, you and Rwanda have had to bear the brunt of the Burundi conflict in terms of hosting tens of thousands of refugees, and the disruption of cross-border trade.

Mr. President, granted you recently spoke out against the senseless killings in Burundi and you rebuked leaders there for essentially partaking in them and/or standing idly by while the massacres go on, and today you appealed to “Burundians to sort out their own problems” and you ruled out contributing troops to the proposed African Union initiative to send peace keepers to Burundi.

Mr. President, really? What happened to the East African or neighbourly spirit? Given Rwanda’s tragic history of the genocide, you should be leading the effort to prevent a repeat in Burundi. And i’m sure there’s ways you could help without necessarily sending in troops. Now, what if other leaders or the AU adopted the “you are on your own attitude”?

Your excellence, you know that Bujumbura has pointed a finger at Rwanda charging it is fueling the conflict by not only hosting the leader of the May 13th failed coup but also by recruiting and training Burundian refugees in camps like Mahama. As if to substantiate claims by the authorities in Burundi, last week, Refugees International, an advocacy group released a report further detailing how Rwanda has been recruiting and training refugees enlisting them in non-state armed groups. One of the authors’ recommendations was that Rwanda must “affirm publicly that the recruitment of refugees into non-state armed groups on its territory is a violation of Rwandan and international law.”

I know that Rwanda has dismissed all these allegations and reports as baseless and “childish” but Mr. President don’t you think if you publicly and seriously led or co-led the regional effort to resolve the Burundi situation you would both be helping Rwanda and the Burundian wananchi? You remember before the elections in Burundi, then Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete brought you and fellow EAC leaders together to try and address the situation? Where has that sense of urgency gone? Mr. President, what will you say or show if the worst case scenario comes to pass in Burundi? That you did speak out against the bloodshed? In the course of this turmoil, your Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has also been quoted as saying “Burundi’s problem is not Rwanda, Burundi’s problem is Burundi.” Well that might be true but so is ‘Burundi’s problem is Rwanda’s Problem.’

What should Magufuli do?

Dear President John Magufuli of Tanzania, congratulations upon your recent victory, and the enviable job you have been doing at home; from banning foreign travel for your ministers and top government officials to scrapping independence festivities and firing dozens of “big fish” implicated in corruption scandals. Mr President, kudos for your all-out war on government spending and corruption, but having worked closely with your predecessor Jakaya Kikwete, you very well know that as the head of state you have to multitask; meaning at times you have to take on multiple things at the same time.

Also Mr. President given the big challenges facing Tanzania and the region, you have no choice but to hit the ground sprinting, you have already taken off on the home front but you haven’t moved an inch as far as regional and international stage is concerned. Mr. President, Burundi is on fire and you must quickly step up to the plate and work with regional leaders to put out the fire. I do not need to remind you the role your country has played in pacifying the region, like Kikwete and his predecessors, you do have the uphill task of ensuring that Tanzania leads in rallying regional leaders around tackling regional issues, and one of the most pressing issues on the plate at this moment is none other than Burundi.

Mr. President, your short time in office notwithstanding, what can you do to help bring peace back to Burundi? What will you do to fix the trouble next door? What will Magufuli do to contribute to the resolution of the slaughter in Burundi? Thafadhali Rais, kuna kazi nyingi ya kufanyiwa Burundi

To you President. Kenyatta

Dear President. Kenyatta, like Magufuli and other regional leaders, you are dealing with a lot of issues at home: corruption, teachers’ issues, ICC, Al-Shabab, Euro bond, foreign trips, the list goes on and on. All that aside, Mr. President, you and Kenya have a role to play in helping check the instability in in Burundi.
Perhaps you could and should appeal to fellow EAC leaders to really push for the resumption of dialogue between the players. Maybe President Nkurunziza might have a little more respect for you and Kenya given your geographic location and the fact that you seem to not have a dog in the fight (you haven’t been accused of recruiting refugees, you are third term syndrome-free etc). Mr. President it wouldn’t hurt to just pick up the phone and speak to Pierre. You could also invite him to Nairobi and have a man-man conversation and talk him into stepping aside for the sake of his people. You could actually offer to facilitate the failed talks, after all you have the blessings of the Holy Father and Obama!
Mr. President, the Kenyan military has served with their Burundi counterparts in neighbouring Somalia; I’m sure this kind of shared experience can help save a life or two.

Final word

Dear, leaders, Burundi is a complex problem, there seems to be no silver bullet that can help address the this huge challenge. But the crisis also presents an opportunity for you regional leaders and blocs like the East African Community (EAC) and organisations like the African Union.

If our leaders made Burundi a priority, put aside your issues back home, and really worked tirelessly to resolve the crisis, chances are you could arrive at the seemingly elusive solution.

You have always sang about African solutions for African problems, that the West should stop interfering in your affairs, that Africans are capable of resolving their own issues, that East Africa Integration economic and political integration was on the horizon, Never Again……… Well, this is your moment of truth, you either unite and tackle Burundi once and for all or stand to be labeled failures (rightly so), and yes many Burundians will say you have failed them at their darkest hour.

Excellences, Burundi is your Paris Attacks, or ISIS or Crimea, the East African people, African people, and Burundian civilians would love to see a coalition in place determined to end the mayhem.