By Jean Gatera
In a live Instagram interactive conversation last Friday, President Paul Kagame said Rwanda is willing to work with the new Burundian administration to normalize strained relations between the two countries, something that according to analysts, “stirred up hope of improved relations in citizens of both countries,” analysts said.
“There is history that led to the bad relations between our two sister countries but we are ready to work with President Évariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi to address those issues,” President Kagame said. This followed an interview earlier this month in the influential Jeune Afrique magazine with the head of State when the latter also mentioned that “Rwanda would seek to normalize relations with Burundi.” In the interview President Kagame said, “a new President is often an occasion for a new beginning.”
Burundi swore in its new head of state Maj. Gen. Evariste Ndayishimiye, and a new government last month on the 18th of June 2020. During the handover ceremony in Burundi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the new president indicated that Burundi would strive “to restore its diplomatic relations to a pre-2015 era.”
In 2015, Burundi’s foreign relations suffered following a chaotic period with scenes of violence and mass death after former president Pierre Nkurunziza announced “seemingly out of the blue” according to the many Burundians that were opposed to him, to award himself another term in office. “Nkurunziza then pursued an isolationist policy following the 2015 upheavals”, analysts observe.
“For some strange reason Nkurunziza then began to blame Burundi’s bad situation on Rwanda, when Rwanda had never advised him to go against his own country’s laws for his power grab,” observers remarked.
Reports kept showing that Nkurunziza’s provoked fallout with Rwanda became more serious, and it escalated when Anti-Rwandan terrorist militias began to operate from the Burundian territory. Various sources, including a UN Group of Experts Report of December 2018, show that Bujumbura was the focal point of an anti-Rwanda operation supporting armed rebel groups like RNC, FDLR and others bent of destabilizing the security of Rwanda.
Testimony by captured members of the rebel groups, such as Habib Mudathiru of RNC, or FLN’s Callixte Nsabimana confirmed Bujumbura’s active support of the anti-Rwanda coalitions or proxies when the deceased Nkurunziza was head of state. More recently more damning evidence of Burundi being a hotbed of anti-Rwanda rebel activity has re-surfaced with the recent attack of armed militias from Nyungwe, originating from Burundi’s Cibitoke Province.
“When Rwandan forces repulsed the attackers, they retreated back to Burundi,” said an RDF stement.
Others, however, are ready to be more optimistic.
“With political good will, such as the one the Rwandan president is showing, the situation can change quickly, even in the presence of militias and warmongers,” said a Kigali-based Burundian analyst. “DR Congo is a good example; we saw a complete U-turn and a normalization of bilateral relations with a new leadership,” he said.