Rwanda and Burundi are working to re-establish multi-level interaction.
Relations between the two nations have been strained since Burundi accused Rwanda of supporting a coup attempt against it in 2015.
The majority of Burundian military and political figures accused of organizing the coup were given refugee status in Rwanda, causing tensions to flare. But they’re chatting, and their relationship has softened to some extent.
Military intelligence, province governors, foreign affairs ministers, and senate presidents from both nations have met.
Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Edouard Ngirente, even attended Burundi’s 59th Independence Day Celebration, when Burundi’s President, Évariste Ndayishimiye, committed to mending relations with his northern neighbor.
Most of their disagreements seem to have been settled, including the disputed request by Burundi authorities to hand over the coup plotters.
The total reopening of the two nations’ border (which was blocked in 2015) and a meeting of their two presidents would finalize a reconciliation that both people seek.
But it isn’t all smooth sailing. Both administrations are striving to open a new chapter in their relationship, but they are up against stiff resistance. Distrust between the two countries supports the interests of a diverse variety of state and non-state entities both inside and outside of both countries.
These players sow discord via disinformation and hate speech, while also backing proxy armed groups and instilling fear in Rwanda and Burundi.
Most of the difficult topics, including the Burundi coup plotters, seem to have been settled.
The two nations’ and the Great Lakes region’s history of brutal strife has resulted in a slew of refugees, some of whom have established rebel organizations trying to destabilize ruling regimes.
Depending on the current alignments and sociopolitical circumstances, numerous of these organizations get explicit assistance from regional administrations, fueling hostility between the two nations.
Rwanda and Burundi’s administrations sprang from comparable exiled armed oppositions. They have a lot in common, and by working together, they may be able to mitigate the region’s risks.
Other similarities include their ethnic diversity, high population density and paucity of land, and closeness to the badly managed eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Above all, they have a common colonial past as well as a significant military heritage that influences their political histories and foreign policies.
The National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces de Défense de la Démocratie is a former majority-Hutu rebel organization that fought against a Tutsi-dominated state. Hutu extremists in Burundi think Rwanda is ruled by racist ethnic Tutsis and that Rwanda will not rest until Burundi has a Tutsi dictatorship.
In Rwanda, the governing Rwandan Patriotic Front is a former Tutsi-led uprising that gained power in 1994, bringing an end to the old Hutu-dominated rule in Kigali’s genocide. Extremists in Rwanda find people among Burundi’s governing Hutus who have the same ideology as the Rwandan Hutus who conducted the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Burundian Tutsi extremists, some of whom have fled to Rwanda and the diaspora, are a constant source of fuel for this narrative.
Distrust between the two countries benefits a broad spectrum of state and non-state players.
The UN and the African Union (AU) are attempting to promote peace in the Great Lakes area. Restoring regional stability and reactivating the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries would rely heavily on Rwanda and Burundi’s tight ties.
Restoring multi-level interaction between the two governments would go a long way toward establishing the confidence required to handle the many difficulties that both nations confront. These include border instability, climate change, and financial losses due to unlawful cross-border commerce. However, in order to secure long-term progress, the controversial topics must be settled via high-level discussions of both administrations.
Rwanda’s decision to provide refugee status to the majority of the accused coup culprits in 2015 is a case in point. Rwandan President Paul Kagame said in a May 2021 interview that he is willing to extradite the refugees to Burundi. However, at a recent meeting with the diplomatic corps in Gitega, Burundi’s capital, Foreign Minister Albert Shingiro said that such a transfer would be the last step toward complete normalization.
The African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region should all work to reach an agreement in accordance with African legal frameworks such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance and the Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention. If such a delicate transition occurs, Rwanda and Burundi may consider establishing a joint oversight structure to monitor, ensure, and assist it.