Burundi: The quietest cousin in the EAC region

Burundi's President Evariste Ndayishimiye

Summary

  • It is the country that has managed more presidents than any other country in the region, in part, courtesy of a tragic past. Even with that the region has not paid enough attention to Burundi enough to know what is happening there.

Rumours of a coup plot in Burundi sent shockwaves in the region. The last time soldiers had made an attempt for political power, seven years ago, was in Burundi. Back then, the country almost sunk into civil war. It is a country that rarely gives away its secrets and rarely makes headlines beyond its political borders. When it makes news, it’s a splash.

The last time soldiers made attempts for political power in Burundi it was linked with what was considered as the then-president granting himself a ‘third term’ in office. What could explain the latest coup talk there? More rumours.

In Africa, of recent, military coups have dominated the western part of the continent where soldiers have pushed aside civilians as the region and their countries struggle with insecurities stemming from many things including systemic failures of those in power. As such, it is no surprise to hear of a coup in a West African country, in fact, coups are expected in some of them courtesy of the many underlying conditions which are commonplace in many other countries on the continent.

That is why the region was shocked by the rumblings from the ‘quietest cousin’ even though coup plots and rumours about soldiers being up to no good are not strangers to the region. They have fuelled the ongoing instability in South Sudan, with the president there turning into a hermit who rarely ventures beyond his political borders. In the newest EAC partner state, the DR Congo, there have been rumours too of plots against the government by the powers of yesteryear.

Burundi joined the East African Community (EAC) with Rwanda in July 2007. However, even with its famed ancient drums, little escapes the country to make headlines. That it has contributed troops in some of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts like the one in Somalia has never been enough for the region to know more about the country.

It is the country that has managed more presidents than any other country in the region, in part, courtesy of a tragic past. Even with that the region has not paid enough attention to Burundi enough to know what is happening there.

From time to time, news filters through but much of that is related to tensions with other partner states and the overall conflicts in the region. There have been headlines about disputed borders, accusations of cross border political and security sabotages, or military involvement in the eastern region of the DR Congo.

Almost every other country in the region makes headlines about all sorts of things.

It could be the obsession with elections in Kenya and the preparations for the next elections five years away or lack of them in South Sudan or the political prospects of the political contests shaping up in the DR Congo after the political alliance that came into being after the previous general election collapsed along the way. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame plans for the future easily make headlines on whether he will run again or not, just as much as what happens in Uganda post-Yoweri Museveni.

Not Burundi.

It is difficult to say with clarity why this is the case. After all, it is not the only country in the region that is not known. Even South Sudan continues to make terrible headlines with tragic ethnic clashes or bouts of bloody clashes of soldiers from different sides in the capital Juba, or the terrible toll the ongoing insecurity has had on the lives of ordinary people there, much about that country is not known. It is as if nothing good ever happens there.

With Burundi, it is different. Much of everything is under wraps.

There is a lot that has to be done regarding the integration of the region but that should not be left in the hands of politicians and instead should be entrusted to ordinary people. These pay the highest price when things explode whether in Burundi or any other country in the region.

The region should pay more attention to its ‘quietest cousin’, lest it miss all the important signs of things falling apart, only to be awakened to the sounds of guns and screams and endless lines of people fleeing to safety elsewhere.

Ordinary people in the region deserve to catch a break.