Talking to the Enemy: An Impossibility in Burundi?

The latest negotiations of the Burundian conflict have come to a standstill because the government rejected the participation of opposition delegations in the talks. This has invited reactions from both the government and the opposition.

According to The Times of South Africa, a government senator, Evelyne Butoyi tweeted that “the government of Burundi refuses to sit with presumed putschists.” According to Willy Nyamitwe, a special adviser to President Nkurunziza, the government cannot negotiate with those who were behind the failed coup last year. Civil society too has reacted to the blame game with one of its most represented voices, Vital Nshimirimana of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC) saying the government is to blame for the failed peace talks. According to him, Pierre Nkurunziza was once sentenced to death when he was a rebel leader, but following negotiations he was pardoned and even ran for the presidency, and finally became president in 2005. Nsimirimana questions why President Nkurunziza cannot do the same for all Burundians.

Nobel Peace Laureate and anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela, said “you do not make peace by talking to your friends but by reaching out to your enemies.” He expatiated by saying that you can only make peace by working with your enemy, and then you transform him into a partner. In order to successfully lead Burundians to a defined future, the government must include all Burundians. The first step in doing this is to transform enemies to friends, which can only be done with all stake holders sitting on the same table and looking towards a common future for all. No government will succeed when one party is out, as it will lead to more tension, skirmishes and conflicts yet again. And rather than spending time fine-tuning development strategies the government will be concentrating on strategies to defeat its enemies. In such a situation rather than power being in the hands of those who can produce it will rest on the hands of those who can destroy as it is the case with Burundi today.

No situation is without a remedy. Nelson Mandela showed the example by sitting on the same negotiation table with those who jailed him for 27 years and he worked in the same government with some of these persons to build a “rainbow” South Africa. In the previous Burundian conflict between 1994 and 2006 Nkurunziza himself was a rebel leader but because others agreed to talk with him in the same manner that his government is refusing to talk with opposition, he was pardoned and later on became the country’s president. This is the time for him to pay it forward.

The latest Burundian conflicts came to the limelight last year when President Nkurunziza announced in April his bid for a controversial third term. He eventually won the election that was organized in July 2015 and since then scores of Burundians have been killed with the latest being a high profile politician and MP for East African parliament, Hafsa Mossi shot dead on Wednesday. The chief mediator of the conflict, former Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa invited representatives of the various delegations including the government for talks in the Tanzania city of Arusha where peace talks of the former conflict were held and concluded. However, last Wednesday, the government pulled out of the talks because of the inclusion of members of the opposition in the list of invitees.