Burundi – a successful story of R2P?

February 18, 2009

After reading about numerous R2P failures (e.g. Rwanda, Darfur, etc.), one might ask, can R2P ever be successful? The case of Burundi shows that R2P principles can be employed to prevent mass atrocities. It also highlights the important point that R2P involves not just military intervention, but also various actions to promote human protection. Finally, intervention in Burundi illustrates the importance of coalitions of actors —regional and international — working together to uphold these duties under R2P and support the UN.

Burundi shares a similar history with Rwanda. It was also a former European colony, burdened with political unrest because of social differences between the Tutsi and Hutu, provoking civil war throughout the middle twentieth century. However, as a sharp contrast to Rwanda, it avoided the 1994 genocide (despite the fact that its own president was killed in the same plane as the Rwandan president) and in 2005 all political parties (and formerly warring leaders) accepted inter-ethnic power sharing, and the power-sharing Constitution was approved with over 90% of the popular vote.

Studies show that one of the crucial factor to success was the “long-term involvement by regional actors backed by Western governments and international actors, including the UN.” Burundi peace talks dragged for over 10 years because of mutual suspicion between Hutu and Tutsi, but gradually the many rounds of extensive negotiations established power-sharing agreements to pacify most contending groups. The talks were overseen by regional political leaders (Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda). Peacekeeping by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the UN were also employed. Western countries dispatched special envoys (e.g. former U.S. Congressperson Howard Wolpe) to work toward political solution and NGO efforts helped to facilitate secret peace-talks that paved the way for all-party negotiations.

Over this extended period of outside engagement, carrots and sticks were used together. Pressure tactics such as the international development aid embargo by US, France, EU until a ceasefire has been reached helped encourage the government to remain at the negotiating table. A proposed UN Security Council Chapter VII intervention was also a background threat meant to deter future massacres. All the while, UN and NGOs conducted several “quick impact” projects including building schools, orphanages, health clinics, and rebuilding infrastructure such as water lines. Most recently, the UN Peace Building Commission has integrated UN sponsored post-conflict aid programs in Burundi under one roof.

Burundi remains one of the poorest countries in Africa and faces many future challenges requiring continued long term engagement efforts, like establishing good governance, promoting human rights, reforming property rights and land distribution, and resettling refugees. It is unclear what the future holds for this small land-locked country, but we believe that the R2P humanitarian framework when the focus of intervention is no longer solely about military intervention and is supported by “coalitions of the willing” can be effective.

By Carrie Chow and Carmen Cheng.


6 Responses to “Burundi – a successful story of R2P?”

  1. jenna1775 Says:

    Great post guys. Just one thing- you mentioned that one of the reasons why Burundi has been able to make progress regarding the Tutsi-Hutu conflict was because of the “long-term involvement by regional actors backed by Western governments and international actors, including the UN”.
    The first thing that comes into my mind is financial aid which I would assume is one of the many aids offered by international actors. However, this has been the cause of a great step back for Congo and Rwanda; another tragic example of the Tutsi-Hutu conflict caused genocide which has made Congo and Rwanda to be at the brink of war.
    The Rwandan leader is blaming the UN over the crisis claiming that there were “business interests that were overriding efforts of finding lasting solutions to the human crisis in the region” and that “They have turned the DRC crisis into business; the $1b per year, ostensibly spent on ending the crisis, is business for them – they don’t take stock of what they spend on” (allafrica.com)

    I understand that financial aid is only a part of the many actions being taken by regional and international actors. But as far and Congo and Rwanda is concerned, they have signed peace agreements and set mechanisms to actively resolve the problem(www.hrw.org) but many continue to think that the Tutsis and Hutus will always kill each other.
    ㅡWhat do you guys think is going wrong?

  2. Marianne Says:

    Dear Carrie and Carmen,

    Thank you for taking on a more positive approach to the R2P principle that seen in the previous blogs. It nice to see that it not all about failure.

    After reading the blog, I wonder what is so special about Burundi compared to Rwanda? If regional and international actors were interested/are interested in helping creating peace and rebuilding Burundi then why did they fail in Rwanda? I know to little about Burundi after only a couple of hours research to pin point the exact reason, but it seems that the earlier involvement the better result.

    But that leaves the question of when its justified to intervene. It can be argued that the R2P report leaves plenty of room for interpretation, which might create great debate about sovereignty. However, maybe it is impossible to have an ‘ready-meal’ intervention plan that works in all situations. Maybe the ‘right’ time to intervene depends on the circumstances. But does that mean that it was pure luck that the help came to Burundi at the right time or was it ‘planned’?

    Either way, the Burundi case needs to be studied even more than the Rwanda case. It is always easier to pin point what went wrong than what went right. And it seems to me that it is easier to blame or critizes that actually finding solutions. To look at the ‘successes’ and find out why it ended with good results seems to be the best way to move forward from here. So a comparison between Rwanda and Burundi cases seems to be a good start in order to find out how to get R2P to work even better.

    Once again, thank you shifting my focus from what is wrong with R2P to what is working. And showing that R2P does NOT equal failure.

    All the best,

  3. carmenkmc Says:

    Thank you very much for your comment and your concern about the role of financial aids to the Great Lakes Region, Jenna.

    To a certain extent, we agree with the quote you cited from allafrica.com that “business interests that were overriding efforts of finding lasting solutions to the human crisis in the region”, in a sense that foreign financial aids were sometime motivated by the donor countries’ own national interests.

    “The genocide was the result of Rwanda’s political and economic position in the capitalist world system. It involved such monetary factors as its colonial history, the price of coffee, World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies, the global interests of Western nations, particularly France, the interests of international aid agencies, and Western attitudes towards Africa” (Shalom 1996). Also, maintaining access to aid required agreeing to financial reforms imposed by the donor multilateral organizations (eg IMF) which harmed Rwanda’s domestic economy—domestic market for local food crops was undermined by cheap food imports and food aid from the wealthy countries. (http://www.globalissues.org/article/429/rwanda).

    Therefore, it is not surprising to see that financial aids to Rwanda did not come free. The sad truth is, however, Rwanda just could not afford to loss the aids and even nowadays, she is still relying very heavily on foreign aids. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1070265.stm)

    Having said that, not every donor country had an ulterior private motive in aiding the Great Lakes Region. Switzerland is a good example. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation aimed at ‘supporting peace and security, democracy and good governance, economic development and regional integration, and humanitarian and social issues’. It has been providing both Rwanda and Burundi humanitarian aid as well as development assistance.( http://www.sdc.admin.ch/en/Home/Countries/Eastern_Central_Southern_Africa/Great_Lakes_Rwanda_Burundi_Democratic_Republic_of_Congo )

    Therefore, we think it is legitimate to say that international aids to the Great Lakes Region were not necessarily ‘evil’ in nature and there were always some countries willing to help out of humanitarian reasons.

    Carrie Chow and Carmen Cheng

  4. carriechow1 Says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Marianne.

    We agree that quick action and clear stance backed up by ‘carrots and sticks’ are important means to have successful R2P action.

    This can be shown by comparison of the cases of Rwanda and Burundi:

    One fatal feature in Rwanda case is that UN peacekeeping force withdrawn (under US’s pressure and dispute over fund), i.e. the failure to show commitment to deter escalation. Besides, for those UN peacekeepers that remained, they lacked institutional supports and resources. It is noteworthy that Samantha Power’s interview shows that after foreign troops (mainly European) were evacuated, killings escalated! This shows that the presence of foreigners were a sign that have much deterrent effect!!!!

    What happened in Rwandan could be contrasted with the case in Burundi where peacekeeping force were present to show the stance of international community (as we have talked about earlier).

    From the above analysis, I think we learn about one main advantage of adopting human security instead of traditional view of national security: US adopted the ‘wrong policy’ PARTLY because its bias, i.e. they were “predisposed to trust the assurance of Rwandan officials, several of whom were plotting genocide behind the scenes.”

    Moreover, in the case of Burundi, leaders of various countries made public statement denouncing the slaughter relatively soon afterwards, while in the case of Rwanda, US president had not participate in talks with Rwandan leaders (only US mid-level officials calling them!). One can imagine that the Hutu must have thought that US and others didn’t care about their ‘civil conflict’.

    Carrie Chow and Carmen Cheng

  5. dmitces Says:

    A quantum of light has finally glimmered over our discussion, cheers for that.

    I used the links that were provided in your article for some additional research and noticed two details that might have been conducive to reaching success.

    Firstly, the article on The United Nations and Humanitarian Military Intervention mentions that none of the P5 except for France and the US had any particular interest in Burundi. Furthermore, despite certain anxiety over the possible developments in the country, neither France, nor the US intended to veto a strong resolution (the reason for the US is said to have been reluctance to experience another Rwanda before the upcoming elections; whereas France, as the spiritual leader of the Francophone world sensed a kind of moral duty that was stirring it up). Taking these factors into consideration, the events seem to have happened ‘at a right place at a right time’ which hardly undermines R2P per se but rather once again illustrates how influential local contexts (of all the actors involved) are and how they affect their will (and quality) to respond to the issues that are beyond their geographic borders.

    Secondly, comparatively small size of the state (<28.000 km2) must have had positively reflected upon the effectiveness of the peacekeeping forces, as it increased their concentration on a unit of area simultaneously with enhanced mobility and coordination of their actions.

    Also, it is very tempting to say that the international community represented has demonstrated its ability to learn from previous mistakes but if that was true probably we would not be discussing Darfur on other blogs…

  6. carriechow1 Says:

    Dear Dmitces,

    Thank you for your valuable comments. They really stimulate our thoughts!

    We agree that the local context is important to have R2P realized. In particular, the regional leaders’ attitude can be influential. For example, in the case of Burundi, we see that the early UN efforts were not quite successful. It seems that what brought Buyoya into the negotiation table was the orchestrated actions of leaders of Tanzania, Kenya, Yganda , Zaire, Rwanda and Ethiopia to impose economic sanctions unless a list of demands are met (e.g. multi-party democracy and peace talks).

    Regarding the evaluation of R2P model, we think It is noteworthy that the efforts Western countries contributes were not very ‘forceful’ or substantial. For example, they did not impose economic sanctions (but they suspended development aid), nor did US commit troops or encourage other countries to do so. But the mere threat of a chapter VII mission led to an end of extremists’ violence behavior. What these shows, we submit, is that it could be successful even if the Western countries only act as ‘back-up’.

    Thank you for pointing out that the relative small size of Burundi is conducive to the success (could it be contrasted with Sudan – the largest country in East Africa?). We agree that it is material because, firstly, the lack of local knowledge is one of the reason why the UN rep in Rwanda was not successful (as shown from Power’s interview); and secondly, the small scale of economy means that the development aid and economic sanctions will have more effect, hence the more effective the ‘carrot and stick’ approach.

    As regards your opinion on ‘ability to learn from previous mistakes’, we partly agree – as states still have other interests in mind (as Sudan case demonstrates) and moral obligation towards a ‘failed state’ far away is not the first priority for leaders. However, I think to a limited extent one might say states ‘learn from mistake’ as they might see how the negative PR consequence could be if things were left to become as horrible as Rwandan genocide.

    Carrie Chow and Carmen Cheng

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