UGANDA on Friday warned Burundi to work with the African Union after Bujumbura after it threatened to attack AU peacekeepers if they were deployed in the country.
The small central African country descended into bloodshed in April when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term in a July election that he went on to win.
Bujumbura, which dismissed Ugandan-mediated peace talks in Tanzania last week, has rejected a proposed AU 5,000-strong force to halt the violence, calling it an “invasion” force.
Nkurunziza last month called on Burundians to “stand up to fight” if AU troops set foot on Burundian soil without permission.
“Shooting at the African Union peacekeepers would be a big mistake,” Ugandan Minister of Defence Crispus Kiyonga told reporters on Friday, according to the state-owned New Vision newspaper.
“We are all members of AU and we are bound by its resolutions. If one is not satisfied with AU’s decision, they can challenge it through proper channels, like through the AU summit.”
Burundian and Ugandan troops fight side-by-side in Somalia as part of the AU force, AMISOM, backing the government in Mogadishu.
Kiyonga has been leading Ugandan mediation efforts to resolve the crisis in Burundi on behalf of President Yoweri Museveni, who is the chief mediator.
An AU deadline for Burundi to accept the force has long passed and no action has yet been taken to deploy the peacekeepers, named as the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, MAPROBU.
Possible deployment of the force is expected to be a key part of talks in Ethiopia later this month, when the AU summit takes place on January 30-31.
“The African Union is engaging Burundi, and Uganda is doing the same, so that we resolve the matter,” Kiyonga told AFP, but declined to say what possible action could be taken in Bujumbura blocks diplomatic efforts.
“There is good will in Burundi that this crisis ends,” he said.
But the AU might have overplayed it hand and lost face when, stung by criticism that it was an ineffectual strongmen’s talk shop, on December 18 it gave the Burundian government a 96-hour ultimatum to accept the deployment of an AU peacekeeping force to the country.
It will be a month since the deadline passed on December 22, and the Nkurunziza government has not paid any price for its defiance. Indeed its increasingly dismissive attitude toward the Uganda-led talks suggests it has become more emboldened.
When the AU gave Burundi the ultimatum on peacekeeping forces, the country was going through some of the worst violence since Nkurunziza made his third term grab.
All not in vain
There has been a slight easing off of the violence, so it looks likely the threats might not have been in vain, and that the Burundi government took some action to halt killings and to avoid escalation, especially after a strong statement from the UN Security followed the AU’s threats.
Nevertheless, the Burundi case has again illustrated the limits of the AU, most of whose budget is paid by donors, who also bankroll its peacekeeping operations.
African member states are notorious for not paying up their subscriptions, and while the continent’s leaders will thump their chests and breathe fire at summits, when they get on their presidential planes and fly back home, all that is left is the whiff of jet fuel.
Because the UN was getting very vocal about Burundi, it’s likely the AU wanted to get ahead of it in taking leadership in the crisis as an “African issue”, and hoped international resources would flow to help it pressure Nkurunziza. It also didn’t foresee that Tanzania, possibly the country with the most influence over Burundi, would oppose a tough military approach. (READ: Tanzania breaks ranks, opposes AU plan for troops in Burundi and pushes ‘political solution’ – report)
It has been left with egg on the face instead – for now.