By Ann Garrison
The unipolar, US-led global order is facing its most difficult challenge since the fall of the Berlin wall, most notably from Russia and China. This competition is currently most harrowing in Syria, but it is also playing out in the tiny but geostrategic East African nation of Burundi.
Burundi borders Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east, and the hugely resource rich Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. In May, Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution to censure Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza for seeking a third term. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, “It’s not the business of the Security Council and the U.N. Charter to get involved in constitutional matters of sovereign states.” Earlier, a Russian firm won the contract to exploit Burundi’s nickel reserves, which are probably its most valuable mineral resource.
The country’s highest court ruled that Nkurunziza was constitutionally entitled to seek a third term, and he went on to claim victory in the election, after defeating a May coup attempt. Western governments and press nevertheless continued to excoriate Nkurunziza, as violence continued in the country’s capital, Bujumbura, and on its border with Rwanda.
I spoke to Didas Gasana, a Rwandan journalist who has taken political refuge in Sweden, where he writes that Burundi is Africa’s Syria, deep down in the center of Sub-Saharan Africa. (Like Syria, Burundi is a war theater: the China-Russia axis vs. the US-EU axis)
Ann Garrison: Didas, you wrote an essay published in The Rwandan comparing Syria and Burundi. Could you explain your main points?
Didas Gasana: Both Syria and Burundi are international hot spots, where the global centers of power – that is the US and Russia – are tussling it out. So, basically I was trying to show that what we see in Burundi is not an internal problem. It’s actually between the Kremlin and Washington D.C., which is the same case in Syria.
AG: You described Burundi as a proxy war. Could you explain?
DG: What distinguishes Burundi from Syria is that in Syria we have the Russian and the US forces sharing the same air space. In Burundi, the US, the UK, Israel and Belgium are using Rwanda – are using Paul Kagame’s Rwanda – while the Russians and Chinese are using Tanzania and South Africa.
AG: We’re being encouraged to think of the Burundian conflict in terms of Hutu and Tutsi. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
DG: I am a close cousin of the Burundians. Rwandans and Burundians are close cousins, and I don’t buy that story. I don’t believe that, because when you look at the opposition in Burundi, the people who are opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza are both Tutsis and Hutus. And in his cabinet, we have got both the Hutus and the Tutsis. So it is not an inter-ethnic divide, and in the end, it all boils down to who is using the opposition against a legitimate government.
AG: With Pierre Nkurunziza’s government being the legitimate government in Burundi?
AG: This week Reuters reported that the African Union Peace and Security Council had urged the AU to send troops to Burundi, so as to intervene in the event of mass violence. What do you think of this?
DG: Well, personally, I think the African Union should be sending peacekeepers to Rwanda, most especially on the Rwanda/Burundi common border, because we know where the trouble is coming from. Burundi, internally, would be safe had it not been for the intrusion of Rwanda and the power that Rwanda is working for, meaning the US, the EU, and Israel. So, even if we have these troops on Burundian soil, without curtailing Rwanda’s ability to destabilize Burundi, we won’t have any room for peace in Burundi, and therefore no peace to keep in Burundi.
AG: OK, you think the African Union should send peacekeepers to the Rwandan Burundian border because Rwanda is destabilizing Burundi and if Rwanda is not stopped, there will be no peace to keep in Burundi. Right?
DG: Absolutely. That is what I would say, Ann.
AG: Do you think that the AU peacekeepers will intervene in the interests of peace rather than the interests of one or the other side of the competition between two axes, the US/EU and Russia/China?
DG: Well, first of all we have to look at the international economics and politics of peacekeeping. These peacekeepers, if they’re in Burundi, they may tend to lean on the side that is able to lobby more effectively than the other. So if Russia and China lobby these peacekeepers, they may go on their side. If the US and the EU succeed in lobbying them more effectively, they may go on their side. It’s all about lobbying. It’s all about politics and economics. I think that the African Union will be divided on this because Russia and China have influence in the AU, just as the US and the EU do. So the effect of their lobbying is an important thing to keep an eye on.
AG: Is there anything else you’d like to say about this?
DG: Well, I’d like to say that the Russians and the Chinese, the ordinary people who pay the taxes and make the government possible, like the ordinary citizens of the US and the EU, they must hold their governments responsible and accountable for their foreign policy. US citizens, Russian, Chinese and EU citizens must understand that the ordinary man is not profiting from resource war and conflict economics in Africa. Multinational corporations are profiting.
Didas Gasana is a Rwandan journalist who has taken political refuge in Sweden because his criticism of President Paul Kagame’s Rwandan government put his life in danger.