Should we mourn the good relations between Rwanda and Burundi? The answer is undoubtedly a big yes. This sorry development is so unfortunate for the two brother peoples. The relations will stay damaged as long as Burundi remains in the grip of the unholy and toxic alliance that can be summed up in a single acronym: the CNDD-FDLR!
The worm was already in the fruit!
In 2018, during one of Arusha’s unsuccessful negotiation sessions, a high-ranking Burundian politician living in exile meets Evariste Ndayishimiye in his hotel room. Back then, the latter was only Secretary General of the Burundi ruling Party CNDD-FDD. The visitor wanted to exchange ideas on the political situation prevailing in Burundi. The opposition politician received by Evariste Ndayishimiye is Hutu. The precision of his ethnic group is important.
The visitor wished to ask a crucial question to the man who went on to become the Head of State after he succeeded the late Pierre Nkurunziza by way of massive and unapologetic electoral fraud. At this very moment and juncture, Evariste Ndayishimiye’s response to the opponent’s query is of paramount and almost prophetic importance. Indeed, having become Head of State, he has the power to implement a decision that seems to have been taken at least two years ago under Pierre Nkurunziza.
The visitor asks Evariste Ndayishimiye, more or less in these terms, the question that has been burning his lips for a while: “Does the Burundian regime really want to wage war on Rwanda? I would strongly advise you to stop the escalation with our neighbour to the north.”
You have to sit down first and pause before reading Evariste Ndayishimiye’s stunning response as recounted by his visitor! “We will carry on with the project. And we shall attack Rwanda. We have long range cannons that can hit Kigali all the way from Bujumbura. We, Burundian soldiers, will fight Rwanda on the Rwandan ground. Even if it means leaving the country in the care of the Imbonerakure.” Burundians and Rwandans are warned!
An Open Secret!
The Interahamwe are an occupation army in Burundi. They provided close protection for Pierre Nkurunziza. It is said that their Corps entrusted with protecting Burundi Institutions was the best equipped in the country in terms of weaponry. They have infiltrated the National Police and the Army. In April 2015, they played a decisive and particularly cruel role in the bloody repression of popular demonstrations against Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term. According to a senior Police Officer, Interahamwe infiltrators donning Burundian police uniforms were shooting and killing young Burundian demonstrators without receiving prior orders from any Burundian Police Officer.
In addition, the Interahamwe have invested in real estate in Bujumbura. For example, posh villas are sprouting up in the Rohero district opposite the well-known restaurant “Chez André” located on Louis Rwagasore Avenue. Following the bankruptcy of the public transport services probably triggered by the Burundian regime, the FDLR established a thriving urban transport company with a fleet of buses.
In 2006, the FDLR are said to have signed a juicy contract with the trio comprising Pierre Nkurunziza, Adolphe Nshimirimana and Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni who became Prime Minister following the power grab by Evariste Ndayishimiye. A CNDD-FDD Member of Parliament met in Addis Ababa in 2014 disclosed that the Interahamwe allegedly paid 85 kg of gold for the right of entry and long-term stay in Burundi, the licence to sell minerals including precious stones extracted in DRC and the importation of arms through the Burundian army. According to the MP, it is the hefty amount of money paid by Interahamwe that formed the basis of the considerable wealth accumulated the three strong men.
Evariste Ndayishimiye’s bewildering statement in Arusha in 2018 was a premature announcement of the strategy that may have inspired the Interahamwe attack in Ruheru, Nyaruguru district of southwestern Rwanda. Indeed, multiple sources indicated before the electoral campaign ended on May 20, 2020, that the Interahamwe attack in Rwanda could take place very quickly after the results were announced. The Burundian government is said to have prepared around 3,000 Imbonerakure who were to accompany the Interahamwe in an attack on Rwanda that the FDLR longed for and which they presented as “the final war” for the liberation of their country of origin. Was the Ruheru incursion a provocation or a test before the subsequent big push?
The Ruheru Attack
Despite the usual denials by the Burundian army spokesperson, this attack did take place. As a matter of fact, the Burundi National Defence Force (FDNB) does not actually deny that the attack on Ruheru did not take place. Its convoluted press
release signed by Colonel Floribert Biyereke only states a general principle. Too general precisely to be true. Especially when one knows that Burundi regime is premised on denial, lies and mendacity.
One recent telling example is the Covid-19 pandemic. Yesterday, the nation was told God had spared Burundi from Covid-19 because “our beautiful country” put God in first place. After Pierre Nkurunziza’s untimely death due to “cardiac arrest”, the Covid-19 became the number 1 public enemy in Burundi as announced by Evariste Ndayishimiye in his speech during the commemoration of Burundi 58 years of independence.
As a result, no one is surprised by the content of the press release from the Burundian army. “… Burundi territory cannot be the sanctuary of any armed elements which disturb the security of neighbouring countries. … FDNB troops’ mission is to ensure that security prevails on the borders that Burundi shares with its neighbours. »
It’s a fact that Interahamwe have their own infrastructure and base camps. They are self-reliant and need not use Burundian military camps to launch attacks against Rwanda. They can take initiatives of which Burundi National Defence Force (FDNB) is necessarily informed beforehand. No one is fooled since the FDNB grants logistical support to the FDLR to move their troops from one camp to another. In addition, Burundian Generals hire supply trucks to the FDLR. There are no small profits!
According to a Burundian army soldier belonging to the 411 battalion stationed in Ndora, Bukinanyana commune, Kayanza province, “the attack was real. Absolutely real. It took place during the night of Thursday to Friday, from June 25 to 26, 2020. The news started to circulate around 1h45 a.m. The Interahamwe boasted that they had already taken Gikongoro and part of Butare located in the Nyaruguru district of Rwanda... “
According to another witness living in Bubanza: “There have been many FDLR movements in the Kibira forest in recent days. FDLR troops from the southern part of Kibira in the province of Bubanza have headed towards the province of Cibitoke. These movements were observed Wednesday June 24 and Thursday June 25, 2020. Several tactical operations were visibly underway in Kibira. However, no one really knew exactly what was going on there. …. Many trucks were driving at night these days. From Wednesday to Thursday for example. A truck could make about three rounds in one night… »
After the controversial decision by the Constitutional Court which proclaimed Evariste Ndayishimiye winner of the elections of May 20, 2020, messages of congratulations were sent to him by a few states including Rwanda. The disputed winner has also received congratulations from politicians and organizations that put Evariste Ndayishimiye squarely in the camp of forces hostile to the Rwandan government. Victoire Ingabire, the emblematic opponent of Kigali who was charged and sentenced for collaboration with the FDLR was the first to tweet her congratulatory message to Evariste Ndayishimiye on May 27, 2020. On May 26, 2020, as echoing the congratulations of Ms. Victoire Ingabire, the a.i. president of the FDLR, Lieutenant-General Victor Byiringiro, also sent a raving message to Evariste Ndayishimiye. “ … Your Excellency the President-elect, as part of FDLR struggle to liberate their homeland, Rwanda, against the imperialists and hegemonists… the FDLR beseeches you to spare no effort in the search for a lasting solution to the Rwandan issue.” On June 5, 2020, another strange message sent byMr. Emmanuel Gashamba Habyarimana was added to the stream of enthusiastic congratulations to Evariste Ndayishimiye, on behalf of the Congolese Hutu Community of North Kivu.
The message from the Congolese Hutu Community is surprising. Did the Congolese Hutu Community congratulate Evariste Ndayishimiye because he is Hutu or because he was appointed as Head of State by a junta of Generals themselves all Hutu by the grace of God?
Last but not least! On June 6, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Rwanda sent also a message of congratulations full of good will expressing «… [Rwanda] desire to work for the improvement of the historical relations which exist between the two brother countries. » It was a boldoperation of positive diplomacy on the part of the Rwandan Government! When one is aware of the opinion that prevails in CNDD-FDD circles about Rwanda and its government. The government of Rwanda has taken diplomatic elegance vis-à-vis Burundi to a very high level. Flags were flown half-masting until the burial of Pierre Nkurunziza on June 26, 2020. All that good will endeavour was in vain! The government of Rwanda was not reciprocated because just a day after Pierre Nkurunziza was buried in Gitega some 100 assailants attacked the model village of Ruheru in Rwanda. The awakening was brutal! Back to square one of the CNDD-FDD regime’s atavistic hostility against Rwanda.
The worst was yet to come. Evariste Ndayishimiye appointed as Minister of Foreign and Cooperation, Mr. Albert Shingiro, the immediate former Ambassador to the UN who uttered before the Security Council insulting and unacceptable remarks for the victims of the genocide against Rwandan Tutsi, the Rwandan government and the international community. The new head of Burundian diplomacy spoke of “the alleged 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.” Words of a cynical and
chilling denialism. Will diplomacy be able to repair the damage caused by Mr. Albert Shingiro’s utterances?
The time for the decisive choice has come!
What led to the relations between Rwanda and Burundi to deteriorate to this point, so brutally and so dangerously? Analysts who monitor relations between the two countries are not surprised. For several years, the Burundian regime has fuelled incessant provocations against Rwanda.
Particularly, since the bloody repression of demonstrations against Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term in 2015 which caused mass exile of hundreds of thousands of refugees to neighbouring countries, including Rwanda, repeated protests against Rwanda and its leaders have been staged in the streets of Bujumbura and elsewhere in the country. The Imbonerakure militia was given leeway to hurl insults against the Koroni (colonialists) and Rwanda and also promise “to wash Paul Kagame himself”.
The time for a decisive choice has come. Indeed, it will be difficult for Evariste Ndayishimiye to remain in the vague, in an uncomfortable position between the FDLR and the government of Paul Kagame. Ambiguity and double play are no longer sustainable. The old principle “my friend’s enemy is my enemy” will quickly force him to choose between breaking with the FDLR and facing suicidal consequences if he embarks on adventurous war with Kigali. Will Evariste Ndayishimiye be able to make the right choice? Will he be able to stop the verbal escalation against Rwanda, bury the hatchet and prohibit the Interahamwe from continuing war preparations? Does Evariste Ndayishimiye have the military means and the political will to quickly neutralize the Interahamwe? Or will he remain faithful to his bellicose statement made to one of Burundi opposition leaders in his Arusha hotel room in 2018?
A resident of Mabayi, in Cibitoke province, who was asked the same question concerning the capacity of Evariste Ndayishimiye to stop the Interahamwe war preparations against Rwanda and to impose refugee status on the FDLR and their families was been categorical: « No, he cannot, because this war, has been prepared by his party, the CNDD-FDD, for a long time, since 2006, precisely. The year when a partnership contract was signed between the Burundian regime and the Interahamwe then established in the DRC. »
In addition, apart from the obvious ideological affinity between the Interahamwe and the members of the Zirikana UB-95 Association, the equivalent of the Akazu of Juvenal Habyarimana, which association constitutes a closed club, the hard core of the “Hutu Power”within the CNDD-FDD, the war against Rwanda is a lucrative business for a few generals who take advantage of the situation to earn a lot of
money. Consequently, this looming FDLR war against Rwanda, for which Burundi serves as support base for the Interahamwe, is, according to the analysis of the resident of Mabayi, absolutely inevitable.
For the FDLR, the war is absolutely inevitable. Indeed, they didn’t settle in Burundi for the love of their partners who dominate the CNDD-FDD and Burundi institutions. The rationale for war against Rwanda is backed, in Burundi, by many soldiers, police, intelligence agents and the famous Imbonerakure militia.
However, for how long will Burundian allies with Interahamwe play the dangerous game of an all-out war against Rwanda? How long will Evariste Ndayishimiye play with fire without taking the insane risk of igniting the entire Great Lakes region? Burundi included. And in so doing shooting himself several bullets in both feet?
About the author: Athanase Karayenga is a seasoned Burundian Journalist specializing in political investigation and analysis, in communication consulting and journalism and communication teaching.
In the past, he served as Communication Adviser to President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza of Burundi, as Director General of Burundi National Radio, as Communication Program Manager in UNESCO, in WWF International and Fondation Hirondelle, as Journalism and Communication Lecturer in Rwanda National University and Université Lumière de Bujumbura and finally as Communication Consultant for several international organisations such as ILO, FAO, UNDP, World Bank.