Burundi: Open letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General.

Dear Ban Ki-moon, I would like to first commend your personal commitment and that of the United Nations, to resolving the political situation in Burundi.

Weeks into the conflict you dispatched Mr. Said Djinnit to try and broker dialogue between stakeholders in the conflict but unfortunately you had no choice but to withdraw him upon request by the opposition. Djinnit’s failure to achieve peace did not deter you and the organization you preside over, in your quest to see peace restored in Burundi, you immediately appointed Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily to pick up from where his predecessor had left off but Mr. Bathily was rejected by the government in Bujumbura.

Mr. Secretary General, I do understand you have had conversations with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Burundi and you have pledged UN support. And currently your team is in Burundi on some kind of a fact-mission to assess the situation on the ground and report back to you with recommendations on how to deploy a peacekeeping force.

All the above efforts notwithstanding, Mr. Ki-moon, you should muster all the courage and decisively act, and act now; how many dead bodies must you see for you to mobilise, authorize and deploy a sizeable peacekeeping force in Burundi? How many dead women? How many pregnant women and young malnourished and starving children must you see in refugee camps in Tanzania or Rwanda for the UN to say enough is enough, the time for action is now?

Dear Mr. Ban Ki-moon, how late is too late? At what point will the United Nations decide President Pierre Nkurunziza and all the players in the conflict are not serious about talking and therefore apply some force to stop the bloodshed?

Mr. Secretary General, let me presume that in your nearly 10 years as UN boss you have had an opportunity or opportunities to talk with your predecessor Mr. Koffi Annan about his successes and failures or regrets during his time as UN Chief. I’m I right you and Mr. Annan have talked extensively about Rwanda, and the lessons he draws from UN’s catastrophic failure to prevent and stop the 1994 Genocide? For your remaining time at the helm of the UN, don’t you think the time is now for you to try hard and avoid being a Koffi Annan as far as Burundi is concerned? Mr. Ban Ki-moon, many of your officials have lately warned Burundi is risking becoming another Rwanda, what more evidence or motivation do you want to act? Mr. Secretary General, the Burundian people, the helpless Burundian people are sick and tired of UN’s empty condemnations of the violence, the innocent Burundian children and women have had and heard enough of the threats to sanction the perpetrators of blatant human rights violations, the Burundian people would love to see some serious action to back numerous UN statements and warnings.

How UN can and should help the Burundian people

My venting aside, I really think and hope the United Nations as an organisation and the Secretary General in particular can lead efforts to restore peace and stability back to Burundi. Mr. Secretary General, in your recent statement on the closing of the UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) you pledged unwavering support to the government and people of Burundi.

Ban, that was rather an encouraging statement but it would be good you and the United Nations back it up with concrete action;

Possible Concrete Action One:invite Burundi government representatives and ALL players in the turmoil to New York or in Dar es Salaam get them back to the negotiating table. Make it clear to President Pierre Nkurunziza and his government that they cannot pick and choose which opposition leaders and organisations to sit down with. Opposition in exile notably members of the opposition alliance the Council for the Observance of the constitution, human rights and the Arusha Peace Accord (CNARED), should take part in the talks, the only crime they have committed is be against the president’s third term bid. Inter-Burundian dialogue is a non-starter, so far, all the Burundians seem to agree on is demonise and kill each other, foreign mediation is key if dialogue is to be successful. But still, since the two UN-appointed mediators have failed, and now President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda seems to be preoccupied by campaigning for president and cannot prioritize Burundi, the UN might be forced to come in and get yet another facilitator to steer the process forward.

Possible Concrete Action Two: Convene a Burundi Summit involving leaders of the East African Community (EAC), SADC leaders, the African Union (AU), US, Belgium, ICC, Burundi opposition and civil society, and the European Union (EU) among other partners. Top on the agenda at this gathering should be mobilising peacekeeping troops to send to Burundi ASAP!, Refugees, Burundi dialogue (mediation), the human rights situation and implementing sanctions against perpetrators of the violence and killings. It is imperative that countries and organisations like Belgium, the US, UN, and the EU sanction and punish leaders in Burundi. They should and must hold opposition leaders and security personnel who have played a role in the killings, human rights violations and in fueling the conflict BUT NOT THE Burundian people. President Barack Obama’s recent action to go after political leaders and the generals for their alleged roles in the conflict is commendable but his decision to suspend Burundi from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) program will pinch poor Burundian farmers and small business owners and traders, not government leaders. Mr. Secretary General, on behalf of the Burundian people, shall you plead with Washington not to go ahead with this misguided decision.

Possible Concrete Action Three: Act and act now. Mr. Secretary General, I will draw your attention back to Rwanda for a minute. Has Mr. Annan shared with you what he would have done to stop the Genocide? Has the UN as an organization learnt any lessons from Rwanda’s tragic and regrettable history and identify what could have been done differently to prevent or stop the killings? Can those lessons be applied to Rwanda’s neighbour to the South? Mr. Ban Ki-moon, time is of the essence, whatever you or UN need (s) to do should and must be done, and should and must be done now. Enough of the consulting, enough of the talking and phone calls, enough of the assessing, enough of the board meetings and enough of the condemnations of violence and urging of the resumption of dialogue. Now is the time to act decisively and forcefully to stop the killings. Mr. Secretary General, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr would say, let the death toll, the over 200,000 refugees languishing camps in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and DRC prompt you to appreciate the “fierce urgency of now”, and act.