On Friday, the U.N, condemned public statements in Burundi aimed at inciting hatred and violence, while voicing alarm at recent discoveries of corpses of civilians and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "inflammatory rhetoric is reprehensible and dangerous (and) will only serve to aggravate the situation in the country." "The secretary-general underlines the responsibility of the Burundian authorities to protect the civilian population, regardless of political affiliation, and to ensure that the widespread impunity for these heinous acts is brought to an immediate end''.
The months after Burundi held its third elections since the end its long civil war, violence has only deepened in the country. July's fraught presidential vote took place in an environment tainted by government crackdowns and fear, and there has been an alarming upsurge in arrests, detentions and killings, with bodies found almost daily in the streets of Bujumbura, the capital.
Since then, targeted killings of key opposition figures have multiplied. In May opposition leader Zedi Feruzi, who headed the opposition Union for Peace Development Party and was an outspoken critic of Nkurunziza's third term, was killed in Bukumbura. In September, the Party' spokesman, Patrice Gahungu, was shot dead on his way home in Bujumbura. In October, the body of Charlotte Umugwaneza, an activist for the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD), was found in the Gikoma River. Human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, survived assassination attempt in August.
Opposition figures, however, are not the only victims. Attacks on journalists have grown in the past few months. Now, as results, the majority of the opposition is outside of the country and journalists are fleeing, leaving an information vacuum that social media has tried to fill.
In a political scene dominated by oppression, the military has also seen its share of desertions, targeted killings and rumors of rebellions. Two high-ranked officers-the deputy commander of an elite infant unit, Maj Emmanuel Ndayikeza and Lt. Col. Edouard Nshimirimana-were reported missing earlier this month, along with material, including 100 army radios, strengthening rumors of rebellion.
Gen, Adolphe Nshimirimana, Nkurunziza's long-time ally and deputy, was killed in August, allegedly by other soldiers. Only two weeks later, the former Chief of staff of the army, Col. Jean Bikomagu, a Tutsi who led the government forces, known as the Armed Forces of Burundi (FAB), during the civil war, was executed in front of his house. In September, the army's chief of staff and another former FAB leader, Gen, Prime Niyongabo, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Bujumbura.
As violence has spiked in Burundi, international actors and the government's aid lifelines-the European Union, the African Union and the United States-have continued to push for consultations and dialogue. Simultaneously, they have issued sanctions, now with the twist of a possible first deployment of the East African Standby Force (EASF) to Burundi.
The EU first issued targeted sanctions against four individuals: three connected to the government and one who participated on the failed coup in May, making sure not to only target Nkurinziza's camp. Aid suspension and broader economic sanctions could follow if EU-brokered dialogue does not resolve the crisis. The EU invited Burundi's government to talks in Brussels late last month to imitate the 150-day consultation process under Article 96 in the Cotonou Agreement.
If the talks fail, sanctions are likely to have severe effects on an already struggling population, since the EU is one of the main funders of Burundi's budget. The AU has joined forces with the EU and is compiling a list of individuals for targeted sanctions, while pushing for political dialogue through the East African Community's designated mediator, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The AU has also decided to increase the number of human rights observers in Burundi. Most consequentially, the AU's latest Peace and Security Council communiqué raised the possibility of deploying the EASF to prevent further violence. A potential EASF deployment, which has already endorsed by a team of international envoys, would have several implications.
For one, it would be the first deployment of one of the five regional African Standby Forces (ASF), and as such, would be an important test for the AU's African Peace and Security Architecture. The AU currently is undertaking its first filed exercise on a continental level, known as AMANI Africa, to test the operational readiness of the ASF, with more than 5,000 troops in South Africa.
An EASF deployment would be a complete example of the AU's normative shift from non-intervention to a doctrine of non-indifference, meaning that the AU has the responsibility to protect a state's population from human rights violations.
Yet an EASF deployment would also complicate the picture of the AU's peace-support operations in Africa. Burundi remains a contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, so it could become both a peace-keeper and a country where the AU is trying to keep the peace. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has already experienced that designation: In 2013, the Congolese army sent a battalion to the U.N. mission in the Central African Republic, while the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUSCO-the largest peace operation in the world-was on the ground in Congo.
However, the situation in Burundi is different for many reasons. One is the challenge to the Burundi military's new identity as peacekeeping army, should it be subject to an external intervention in its own state. Another is the fact that Burundi is itself part of the EASF, and is therefore a member of the same force that is supposed to intervene and solve its internal conflict. Third are the increasingly tense relations between Rwanda and Burundi, which undoubtedly will be stretched to the limit if Rwanda takes part in an intervening force. Finally, the question of consent is problematic, as it seems highly unlikely that Burundi's government would agree to the deployment of a military force on its territory, given its strong defense of the country's sovereignty.
The result of EU talks to resolve Burundi's unrest will most likely determine whether the EASF is deployed or not. But the government's continuous attempts to isolate itself from international observers, recently by asking for the withdrawal of Belgium's ambassador, are not promising for conducive talks.
Nkurinziza's own new national commission for dialogue has already been deemed a sham by opponents and is most likely going to be boycotted, so internal solutions appear far-fetched.
In a region that faces several elections with president keen to stay in power in the coming years, the fate of Burundi serves as an important test. International pressure to solve the ongoing crisis is therefore crucial to avoid similar in neighboring countries. Yet it will be an uphill battle as many of Burundi's leaders appear willing to risk everything to maintain the status quo.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: AFP- Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza