When the DR Congo in mid-September postponed the Great Lakes Region Heads of State mini-summit scheduled for September 17 in Goma, it said it was due to due to Covid-19 constraints.
It said the meeting would be held virtually at a later date, October 7.
But it soon emerged that Burundi had pulled out of the meeting, saying it preferred first to engage in bilateral talks with the DRC.
The development was, however, nor surprising. The Great Lakes region has had peace and security problems, culminating in diplomatic hostilities, especially Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
Burundi President Évariste Ndayishimiye hosted a delegation from DRC on October 4-5 on his invitation. This was part of the Second Session of the Bilateral Ministerial Consultation on Peace and Security.
Foreign Affairs minister Marie Tumba Nzeza, who led the DRC delegation, said the meeting was the realisation of the will of the respective presidents.
A communique issued on October 5 indicated among the recommendations made were to establish an MoU on strengthening and maintenance of peace and security on the border.
Others included developing a framework for exchange of information between the administrative authorities of the two countries and initiating regular meetings of security and administrative authorities of the border provinces of Burundi and DR Congo.
They also agreed to put in place a joint operational plan to neutralise armed groups destabilising their countries, in particular by organising coordinated patrols on both sides of the border.
Notably, the two states will form joint stabilisation mechanisms on Rusizi/Ruzizi plain that “take sustainable development into consideration”. The area is located in Uvira territory on the border of South Kivu and Burundi. There is a strong presence of armed groups, including local ethnic militias.
In 2016, there were reports that the 2015 political crisis in Burundi triggered attacks on many villages on the Ruzizi plain, with arbitrary arrests of members of Banyamulenge cattle herding communities, a Congolese Tutsi ethnic group.
Herders were accused of supporting Burundi-armed opposition groups in the DRC, and having possible links with Rwanda’s intelligence services.
According to Crisis Group International, Burundi and Uganda assert that Rwanda supports Burundian and Ugandan rebels in the DRC. This has created poor relations among ICGLR states.
“DRC’s new president Félix Tshisekedi has floated plans to invite Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to conduct joint military operations with DRC troops against insurgents sheltering in his country, a risky policy that could fuel proxy conflicts,” the Crisis Group says in its January 2020 report.
Burundi skips meeting, again
In his inaugural address in June, President Ndayishimiye said Burundi was open and willing to strengthen its partnership with the neighbouring countries.
He had also earlier said that under him, Burundi would seek a relationship based on “mutual respect, mutual accountability, strategic dialogue and demand-driven support”.
Other cross-border security agreements involved encouraging the exchange of information and intelligence between the Defence Forces and the Security Services, in particular on cross-border security.
The two states will also involve their navy forces in the control of Lake Tanganyika through coordinated patrols and also set up a permanent mixed commission in charge of political, defence and security issues.
Unfortunately, Burundi once again skipped the October 7 virtual meeting.