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EAC Member States were too Blind to Save Burundi at the Right Time

Naïve Utopinanism

If Leaders of the East African Community (EAC) member states acted on the right time, we could not be having a crisis in Burundi today. It was simple and straightforward. Presidents, Kenyatta of Kenya, Museveni of Uganda, Kagame of Rwanda and Kikwete (immediate former Tanzania) should have stood together and stopped Pierre Nkurunziza from seeking an illegal third term which is at the centre of the current political crisis in Burundi. That way, he could not have been in the ballot, Burundi could have held election last year and elected a new president and Nkurunziza could be a former president today and Burundi could be on the path of peace consolidation as it had begun and the region could be relatively stable. That is how simple and straightforward it was to prevent the current crisis in Burundi. But someone told me this argument is a good example of naïve utopianism. I agreed. Let us go and look at real politics. 

Real Politic Complexities 

What really complicated the situation in Burundi are the dynamics of real-politic complexities. The people of Burundi and the peoples of the region from neighbouring states are good and as it appears they could have wanted peace and stability. Many a people feel that the great lakes region does not need further instabilities, conflicts and wars. People are sick and tired of gun sounds. Again the African Union (AU) has lately been saying that it is committed to silencing the guns by 2020. I hope they will. But coming closer home, in the great lakes region, silencing of the guns is needed yesterday not 2020. Yes, many wished peace for Burundi yesterday not 2020. It was not the people but the underlying real politics that caused Burundi to sink. Some will call them national strategic interests but yes I am sure they boil down to individual idiosyncrasies of our banditry leaders. After all, it is not easy to define what is national and separate it from Museveni in Uganda or Kagame in Rwanda. The same is true for Kenyatta in Kenya. There could be a different scenario in Tanzania’s Magufuli. Only time will tell. But yes the narrow national strategic and narrow individual interests blinded EAC leaders and rendered them impotent to save Burundi at the right time. 

Narrow National Interests 

Kenya is keen in developing a transport and communication infrastructural corridor which will link and position the port of Mombasa and the upcoming port of Lamu as gateways to eastern and central Africa. Kenya’s political and economic consciousness has been tweaked by those in power to reflect this geopositioning. Tanzania on the other hand is keen in rivalling Kenya by positioning itself as an alternative. Boasting of a wider sea front and endowed with immense resources, Tanzanian authorities have grown with uneasiness with Kenya’s regional hegemony. The country has recently gone full swing into mega infrastructural developments which closely resemble those being developed by Kenya. Tanzania seems to be losing the Uganda and Rwanda corridor but it has the Zambia, Malawi corridor. That much there is settlement. However, in regard to the region far up, Burundi is one country that Tanzania cannot lose given her geopolitical positioning with infrastructural development aimed at Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through Burundi. Tanzania is not going to sit and watch Kenya opens up and takes monopoly all the way to DRC. This strategic interest makes it almost impossible for Tanzania to agree with Kenya on Burundi. That conversation is closed. When a coup attempt happened in Burundi late last year, Nkuruziza who was attending an EAC meeting in Dar es Salaam was sneaked back to Burundi by a Tanzanian military chopper. Tanzania has continued to use Burundi in pulling back within the EAC leading to the formation of the so called coalition of the willing (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda). Tanzania cannot lose Burundi. Tanzania is therefore not going to agree with the rest in intervening in Burundi. That is that. Consumed by national strategic interests Kenya and Tanzania could not do anything to save Burundi at the right time. I doubt they will do anything more now.

Narrow Individual Interests 

On the other hand, the situation in Rwanda and Uganda could have been similar only with slight differences. Whereas the interests for Kenya and Tanzania appear to have been national, those of Rwanda and Uganda were largely personal. President Musveni has been in power for 30 years and he is in the ballot again this year. President Kagame has finished his two 7 year term and he was busy leading a constitutional coup in his country to pave the way for his third… terms. The two had no moral authority to ask Nkuruniza to stop seeking a third term. Museveni only went for tea/coffee in Bujumbura and returned to his save haven in Entebbe and Kagame only kept repeating one thing (if your people have rejected you there is no reason to impose yourself on them). Kagame’s were cleverly chosen words since in Rwanda today the narrative is: ‘it is the people who asked the President to continue leading them.’ 

Nothing at Last

That is how it played out. Museveni had nothing to say, Kagame used very measured words, Kenya and Tanzania focused on other interests. The four leaders could not agree; they could not have a common voice; they could not do anything. EAC had no strategy to save Burundi at the right time. The community watched as Burundi went down. Political expedience and narrow national and individual political interests blinded leaders of the EAC member states and as a result nothing at last was done to save Burundi. 
EAC Member States were too Blind to Save Burundi at the Right Time EAC Member States were too Blind to Save Burundi at the Right Time Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on February 11, 2016 Rating: 5

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