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It's the ethnicity stupid...
Another Ineffectual Bid for Peace in Burundi

Negotiators are meeting this week in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss the ongoing violence in Burundi. With Burundi’s main opposition group not at the table, this farcical peace conference in Arusha is unlikely to achieve much of anything. In the absence of true negotiations, intermittent violence and deepening ethnic polarization are likely to continue unabated.

The mainstream press is just beginning to acknowledge what we have been raising the alarm about for months: the ethnic dimension of conflict in Burundi. One report from Reuters manages to capture both our frustration and our hopes for Burundi coverage:

Till now, the violence in Burundi has largely followed political rather than ethnic loyalties. But diplomats fear ethnic wounds could reopen the longer violence continues.

Encouraging as it is to see an outlet like Reuters acknowledge the role ethnic divisions are playing, this dispatch skates over an important reality: in Burundi, political loyalties are more often than not ethnic loyalties as well (as it is in Rwanda, for that matter, where the law has outlawed ethnicity, but the government remains predominantly Tutsi). Burundi’s political parties draw from distinct Hutu and Tutsi bases. The International Crisis Group reports:

The paradox at the heart of this confrontation [between mainly Tutsi opposition forces and the Hutu regime] is that while Burundi has democratised, the ruling party, the Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), has not. An institutionalised ethnic power-sharing system is completely divorced from a radicalised ethnically-homogenous party reverting to its historical roots (rebel leaders of the civil war era).

Inter-ethnic power-sharing in Burundi is largely of the Impressionist variety: seemingly unified from a distance, but coarse and rather ugly up close. As with the 1993 Arusha Accords for Rwanda, the 2000 Arusha Accords for Burundi employs Tutsi quotas to paint over a Hutu-dominated regime; Tutsis are unhappy and Hutus are resentful with the present arrangement. Coincidentally, the accords also stipulated a strict two-term limit for the Burundian presidency. Last summer, Burundi’s current president Pierre Nkurunziza flouted the term limit and won a third term, signaling just how much he cares about upholding the terms of the agreement.

The latest negotiations in Arusha are, as opposition figures have noted, more monologue than dialogue. Unless all interested parties can voice their concerns at the table, the international community will continue to strut and fret, the regime will carry on making promises signifying nothing, and Tutsi dissidents in Burundi will keep winding up in mass graves to be heard no more. Given Arusha’s track record at producing successful peace accords, we should hold our applause for the Nkurunziza regime’s latest production of political theater.

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