As burials are going underway in Bujumbura of the civilian victims of revenge killings by regime militias and soldiers following the attack on military installations last Friday, social media across East Africa for the first time is raising the word “genocide” in comments, responses, and contributions.
Demands are being made to respect and fulfil the pledges made by regional governments in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when they stood by idle, as did much of the rest of the world at the time, watching from the distance the unfolding slaughter of the innocent, babies, children, women and the elderly.
The East African Community and the African Union all have mechanisms in place and the first steps would be to impose severe sanctions on the regime of Dictator Nkurunziza who manipulated his way back into power when his constitutional mandate had expired. Sham court rulings made by Nkurunziza cronies hastily appointed when law conscious judges fled the country after being threatened, manipulated votes in parliament and the hope, that by repeating his own claims of entitlement for another term often enough they may be believed, have left Burundi reeling from not just political violence but a progressive breakdown of the economy.
The East African Community in particular must now respond with some urgency, more so after their Secretary General, merely for the fact that he is a Rwandan citizen, was beaten up during a mission for reconciliation talks in Bujumbura. The utterances spat at him by Burundian security operatives involved in the incident were well documented at the time but apart from a diplomatic protest by the EAC little other visible action has been taken.
Reprisal killings as seen since Friday in Bujumbura, have finally exposed the mindset of those hanging on to power, that it is apparently no longer a matter of protecting their power grab but that they have now revealed that this is becoming an ethnic conflict again and those targeted and killed are predominantly of one group.
Burundi needs to be suspended from all forms of EAC participation – or else might the regional body see their funding cut by their main partners like the EU – and the African Union, already under intense pressure for their reluctance to deal with goons and killers occupying state houses on the continent, both past and present, needs to follow suit. Should the killings not end must an East African intervention force be sent into Burundi to create a safety zone and buffer for the civilian population, and should they be opposed by the regime, the culprit to be apprehended and tried for what now more and more looks like crimes against humanity.
Burundi, two years ago, had made a remarkable recovery in tourism terms, when Carmen Nibigira was appointed as Director General of the Burundian tourism office. The hype she managed to create, and the media focus she created across the region led to multiple tourism trade mission to visit Burundi and business for the long almost dormant tourism sector began to blossom again. When the Nkurunziza regime however then changed the previous open door Visa policy – most nationalities could obtain visitors passes on arrival at the airport or land borders – and demanded that Visa must be obtained in advance, was it all but clear that this measure was aimed to keep witnesses out of the country who would report of the growing level of oppression and intimidation ahead of the Dictator’s eventual bid to stay in power. As peaceful opposition to these plans grew did violence against those not in favour of the power grab increase and when the sham elections were finally imposed on Burundians and people took to the streets in protest, were militias and regime soldiers unleashed upon them with often fatal consequences.
Tourism is now dead in Burundi and after the most recent events, when regional airlines halted their flights into Bujumbura for a couple of days, does trade seem doomed too. Brussels Airlines has already shifted one of their Bujumbura flights to Entebbe and other airlines, in view of collapsing inbound loads, are also considering their options.
When Kenya Airways and RwandAir resumed their flights did many literally grab the chance to get out of the country and the State Department warning to American citizens yesterday, to get the heck out of Dodge, seems to have been followed by Americans and by other nationalities too. The EU had sounded similar warnings before as did other European countries.
The Burundian crisis, now that the word genocide has been thrown into the arena, is a potentially hugely destabilizing factor for the entire region and the East African powers that be must now stand up to be counted, beyond their mere regular rhetoric. Condemning violence when options exist to stop it and prevent another potential genocide in the region, is no longer good enough and the region is now watching and waiting what their leaders will do after the mass killings of the weekend.