The Descent of Burundi – The Beginning of the Second Great Lakes Crisis?

The displacement crisis in Burundi has been escalating apace since 2015, ignited by the re-election for a third consecutive term of President Nkurinziza. The resulting violence from this re-election has led to the deaths of numerous Burundian citizens and displacement on a massive scale to the neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Uganda and especially Tanzania, which is now hosting a population of just under 200,000 refugees in the Western part of the country, 133,000 of which are Burundian citizens. UNHCR is reporting multiple counts of rape of both men and women, and death by machete eerily reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide, and reports of increased violence by the group Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party. Arrests, disappearances and beatings continue unabated and it appears there is no peace in sight for the foreseeable future.

The scale of the Burundian crisis has been met with very little media attention outside of Africa. The probability of the conflict descending into an ethnic conflict is now a very real one and the repercussions of this are not being recognised outside of the immediate region. However it would be a disaster of very serious proportions if this was allowed to escalate, particularly as it would be extremely difficult to stop the violence from spreading to Rwanda. This could undo 2o years of painstaking work by all parties to move on from the genocide, and so the importance of stopping the escalation of this conflict cannot be overstated. The links to Rwanda are particularly important when one considers that several reports suggest that it is Rwanda who is providing groups such as Imbonerakure with weapons and housing camps.

This comes at the juncture of a perfect storm in the region, as the Government of Kenya has announced the closures of all refugee camps in the country, and consequent expulsion of 600,000 mostly Somali and South Sudanese refugees. When one looks at the map of East Africa just now, it is difficult to predict where these people can go – Somalia and South Sudan both present serious protection concerns for returning refugees, Tanzania is already stretched to, and indeed beyond capacity, while Rwanda and Uganda are already hosting Burundians and very reluctant to take any more – so the question is what now?

Further advocacy efforts need to be developed to apply pressure to organisations such as the African Union through discussions with its Peace and Security Council, led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni / UN. A peacekeeping force needs to be depolyed to Burundi, either in the form of the African Prevention and Protection mission in Burundi (MAPROBU, most likely using East African Standby Forces) (EASF) or a UN Peacekeeping mission. Both of these will have to be permitted by the UN Security Council. The original plan for sending MAPROBU forces to Burundi in January 2016 was stopped when President Nkurinziza stated any intervention would be considered ‘’an attack’’ on Burundian soil and ‘’every Burundian would rise to fight against it’’. Critics of the proposed intervention questioned whether such a move was an affront to the sovereignty of Burundi. The legitimacy of President Nkurinziza’s rule is not the subject of this post, but even if such an intervention were indeed an attack on sovereignty, one could certainly argue this is the lesser of two evils when considered against the region deciding into ethnic violence.
The AU to date has arguably resembled more of a lame duck than a force to be recognised with for contending with the various conflicts on the African continent. Now is the time for it to prove its capabilities in providing peacekeeping forces and creating some stability in troubled regions.

Burundians in Tanzania
For Burundians in Tanzania, the current state of the camps in Western Tanzania is dire, as local authorities are overwhelmed in trying to provide adequate basic services of water, sanitation, shelter, health and education to this ever growing population. UNHCR requires immediate assistance both in terms of greater capacity from partner organisations, and a large influx of funding, as its funding shortfall as of 14th March 2016 is currently 70.2 million – the programme is only 6% funded. This dismal figure needs to be increased dramatically if an ever greater crisis is not averted inside Tanzanian borders. This low a figure is not sustainable and having such a large population receiving such limited assistance is a security issue in addition to a humanitarian tragedy.

According to Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) figures the total funding required in Tanzania for UN agencies alone is 188.8M, and that target is currently 29% funded. The Burundian Regional Refugee Response Plan 2016 for all countries concerned (DR Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) is currently only 8.9% funded according to the OCHA Financial Tracking Service (FTS). From studying of OCHAs FTS for 2016, it is clear that the response programme is chronically underfunded. The following steps need to be undertaken in an attempt to address the funding shortfall:

– The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) be convened to course emergency funding to be provided for Burundian refugee service provision in Tanzania. The central emergency response fund and country- based pool funds should also be considered as potential sources of funding, in addition to private donors.
– An emergency meeting should be called with UNHCR and all of its partners to review the Refugee Response Co-ordination Model with a view to considerably increasing the capacity of the humanitarian organisations in the region within a very short timescale. This should occur in conjunction with the launching of an inter-agency strategic response plan.
– A meeting should also be called with the Government of Tanzanian in order to clarify its programme for the Burundian refugees going forward, and how it would like the humanitarian community to assist in this endeavour.

Estimates from UNHCR state that if the exodus from Burundi continues, then there will be 170,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania by December 2016. This is very serious for two reasons – firstly the resources needed to keep this amount of people with basic services is huge, and the Government of Tanzania (GoT) is already feeling that they are at capacity. But equally important is the long term implications of this – for some Burundians this is maybe their second or even third displacement. Although there has been no large-scale research conducted on this as yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that many Burundians do not want to go back to Burundi, even if the fighting stopped now. Most civilian deaths are predicted to occur in conflict traps their lives marred by repeated cycles of violence, which is now occurring in Burundi. So the question here is then what is a crisis?
A crisis suggests an emergency event, but it is very likely that the Burundian displacement is going to become a protracted one. Given that this is the beginning of the crisis now and it is already so poorly funded, five or six years down the line it is very unlikely it will be getting the minimal attention that it is getting now. So what does that mean for the rights of these people? – because the allowing of 170,000 people to stay in a camp with not even their most basic needs being meet for years on end is simply not sustainable or practical. It is also a serious security issue in terms of greatly increasing the chances of disaffected youths, possible violence between groups of different ethnicities, and this is not something the Government of Tanzania will want either.

Possible Border Closure?
A risk at the moment is that Tanzania may close its borders if large numbers continue to cross from Burundi but there is no increase in funding. This would put serious pressure on the Tanzanian service provision and given their history of generosity to refugees, may leave the Government feeling they are carrying too much of the burden of refugees in the region alone. This is another reason why funding must be increased, as if Tanzania were to close its borders this would cause more refugees to flee to Uganda and also Rwanda. Given the ethnic component of the violence sending more refugees to Rwanda is a very unfavourable option and so the Tanzanian borders must be kept open through close communication with the GoT and more importantly increased support from the international community.

Photo: Copyright of AP/ Jerome Daly

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