The world needs to act on Burundi crisis there now

While necessary, it is both heartbreaking and infuriating that the region and the rest of the world, both with so many other fires to put out, are having to expend so much energy to save Burundi from itself.

Or rather, to save Burundi from its ever-more defiant political leadership. And a political opposition becoming more hardline as a result.

The current political leadership — most notably President Pierre Nkurunziza — has nobody to blame but itself. It created this crisis of political legitimacy. And it is finding it next to impossible to concede the error and move to address that crisis.

No. Instead it has moved to ever more starkly repress its population — particularly those associated with the opposition, which is militarising itself — as well as independent media and human-rights defenders.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights puts the death toll since April, when Nkurunziza launched his bid for a third term, at 240, many of which it says were targeted extrajudicial executions.

Certain parts of Bujumbura considered to be strongholds of the opposition now wake up each morning to dead bodies. The UN High Commission for Refugees now estimates that 210,000 citizens have fled the country since April.

Then came the public warnings by the presidency and the president of the Senate at the start of this month. The former setting a deadline for disarmament and announcing a security operation in which those who failed to comply would be “fought like enemies of the nation.” The latter calling for the full use of force by the police as they went to “work” — or gukora in Kirundi, a term used to incite genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council had already called for a fact-finding mission and the use of targeted sanctions to ensure the government of Burundi enters into mediated dialogue with the opposition under the East African Community.

Further to the public “warnings,” the rest of the world joined in.

This past week, the UN SC adopted a resolution expressing full support for the mediated dialogue under the EAC and calling on the UN Secretary General to present options for preventing further deterioration — even as the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations considered a redeployment from the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help guarantee the security of Burundi citizens still in Burundi.

It is dire. The army is politically divided. Rumours abound of the supposed arming of political militia on both sides across the border in the eastern DRC. Rwanda is losing its patience and is believed to be ready to intervene militarily if necessary.

The EAC must take its mediation responsibilities seriously. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, charged with the mediation, must turn his attention away from the election campaigns in Uganda and focus on Burundi.

Rwanda and Tanzania must get over their differences and apply joint pressure on all parties to get them to the table and keep them there. The rest of the world must co-ordinate its efforts with the EAC and the AU.

Nobody wants a civil war. Worse, nobody wants the regionalisation of a civil war.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes