Burundi is a country in Sub-Saharan Africa that is both adjacent to, and smaller than Lake Victoria.
It might then come as a surprise that this tiny country could become a headache for the supranational African Union (AU). Following the announcement of incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza’s run for a third term, which is in violation of Article 96 of the Burundian Constitution, protests and violence broke out.
These responses included an attempted coup d’etat on May 13th. In addition to the spike in violence since President Nkurunziza’s third mandate went into effect, over 217,000 Burundians have fled the country. This has lead to a deteriorating human rights situation condemned by the Vatican, and was met with targeted sanctions from the United States.
The AU responded on Dec. 17th, noting that in Burundi there were instances of “arbitrary killings and targeted assassinations, arbitrary arrests and detentions, acts of torture, suspension and arbitrary closure of some civil society organizations and media”, and concluded that the appropriate response was an initial deployment of six months (renewable) of 5,000 peacekeepers, though with the option to deploy more.
Predictably, the Government of Burundi was not thrilled by the prospect of its sovereignty being brought into question during a violent constitutional crisis.
The AU peacekeeping force has thus far not received the approval of the Burundian government, who called it an “invasion and occupation force”.
This presents several problems for the AU. The first is that the Crisis in Burundi may spiral into a greater regional issue, due to asylum seekers, and spread of violence.
Either the AU convinces the Burundian Government to accept Peacekeepers, deploys them of their own accord, or do nothing. As the first seems unlikely at the moment, the AU would have to choose between two options that delegitimize the AU to varying degrees.
The second problem is the fact that Burundi is the second largest contributor to ongoing AU peacekeeping missions. With over 5,000 troops in Somalia, Burundi’s continued cooperation in the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is put in jeopardy by both the violence on the home front, and conflict of interest with the AU.
Whatever the outcome, AU leaders will have critical decisions to make in the coming days that could decide just how important a role the IGO plays on the African Continent.
Cover Photo Credit: Dave Proffer/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)