Burundi: The Peace Process and U.S. Policy

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Burundi: The Peace Process and U.S. Policy
Ted Dagne
Specialist in International Relations
With the Assistance of Jessica I. Verner, Research Associate
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Burundi, a small Central African nation of 6 million people, has been in political
turmoil since the assassination of the democratically elected president, Melchior
Ndadaye, in 1993. An estimated 200,000 people have died over the past decade due to
ethnic violence. Since the mid 1990s, Burundi’s neighbors have tried to mediate between
the government and various political and armed factions. In August 2000, the
government of Burundi and most of the opposition groups signed a peace agreement in
Arusha, Tanzania under the auspices of former President Nelson Mandela, nominated as
the facilitator of the peace talks in October 1999. President Clinton attended the signing
ceremony with over a dozen heads of state. Notwithstanding the August agreement,
several armed groups have not signed the agreement and fighting between government
security forces and rebel groups has intensified.
Since independence from Britain in 1962, the politics of Burundi have been largely
dominated by the Tutsi-led military and political establishment. In June 1993, Major Pierre
Buyoya, who came to power in a bloodless coup in September 1987, ended the political
grip of the military when he accepted his defeat by Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, in a multi-
party election that he had called. However, the transfer of power to a Hutu-led
government did not end the influence of the Tutsi, who represent 14% of the population,
while the Hutu are about 85%.
Ndadaye attempted to implement a number of important changes in local government,
to build a multi-ethnic cabinet coalition, and to increase diversity in the army. Critics
charged that his reforms increased divisions in the country and threatened the Tutsi.
Opposing these changes, a small group of Tutsi army officers attempted a military putsch
in October 1993, assassinating Ndadaye along with several of his ministers. The putsch
failed, but sparked ethnic violence in which an estimated 100,000 people, mostly Tutsis,
were killed. The ethnic violence subsided and the political crisis was resolved after
prolonged negotiations between the ruling Hutu-dominated Burundi Democratic Front
(Frodebu) and the Tutsi-dominated Union for National Progress (Uprona), the former

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ruling party. The negotiations resulted in the election of a new Speaker for the National
Assembly, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, who had succeeded President Ndadaye as leader of
Frodebu. In late January 1994, Cyprien Ntaryamira, a Hutu and former Minister of
Agriculture, was elected president by the National Assembly.
In April 1994, Ntaryamira was killed along with the President of Rwanda when the
plane they were sharing was shot down over the airport at Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
Burundi authorities temporarily avoided a major political crisis by confirming
Ntibantunganya as an interim president, and later president. In September 1994, after
months of negotiations, the parties agreed on a power-sharing arrangement in which the
ruling Frodebu agreed to give the opposition 45% of government positions, including the
post of the prime minister. In early 1995, President Ntibantunganya agreed to replace the
Speaker and the prime minister to avoid another crisis with the Tutsi-dominated parties
and military.
The Buyoya Regime
In late July 1996, a group of Tutsi extremists attacked President Ntibantunganya’s
motorcade at the funeral for 350 Tutsis killed by Hutu rebels, and the President sought
refuge at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, fearing for his life.1 On July 25, 1996, the
Burundi army seized power and appointed former military leader Pierre Buyoya as head
of the military junta. Buyoya later suspended the National Assembly and banned all
political activities. In his first public address, Buyoya appealed to the international
community to help him bring stability and defended the takeover of power as a necessary
step to “rescue a people in distress.” In response to the military takeover, Burundi’s
neighbors and several other African nations (Tanzania, Rwanda, Zaire/Democratic
Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) imposed sanctions
on the crisis-prone central African nation.2
The countries outlined several conditions for the lifting of the sanctions: the
restoration of the dissolved National Assembly; the reinstatement of political parties;
democratic reforms; the creation of a national unity government; unconditional internal
peace negotiations with Hutu rebel and opposition groups; and participation in external
peace talks. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), the United Nations, the United
States, and the European Union all initially backed the sanctions. The United States
condemned the military takeover but, aside from public support for the regional embargo,
refrained from taking additional measures to punish the military junta. Three months after
taking power, Buyoya reopened the National Assembly and lifted the ban on political
parties. Initially, he indicated that he would negotiate with the rebels only if they first laid
down their arms, but in early October 1996, in a letter to regional heads of state, he
demonstrated a willingness to participate in unconditional talks. The African nations
continued the embargo, arguing that Buyoya needed to do more on negotiating a peaceful
agreement with the rebels. The regional measures had a serious impact on the Burundian

1 The former president left the residence after several months and became politically active as one
of the leaders of Frodebu.
2 Dellios, Hugh. “Burundi’s Neighbors Vow to Bring New Military Regime ‘To Its Knees’:
Economic Embargo Has Early Impact.” Chicago Tribune. September 8, 1996.

economy and had also increased domestic pressure on Buyoya as extremists in both parties
use the hardship to undermine his political power.
In January 1999, the regional African leaders formally suspended economic sanctions
against Burundi, with the hope that such action might reinvigorate the peace process.
However, the suspension was to be “subject to review based on the progress made in the
[peace] negotiations.” Internal peace negotiations began in late 1997, leading to the
Internal Partnership for Peace (internal political reconciliation process launched by
Buyoya) and a new transitional constitution. Buyoya was sworn in as transitional
president in June 1998, two days after signing into law the new transitional constitution
designed to pave the way for a power-sharing government. In the transitional constitution,
the position of prime minister was split into two vice presidential positions, one of which
will be responsible for the political and administrative domains, the other to supervise the
economic and social domains, and to be filled by one Tutsi and one Hutu. The National
Assembly was expanded from 80 to 121 members in order to accommodate opposition
parties and regional interests.
The Peace Process
Former President of
Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi–Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, was the
August 28, 2000 principal mediator in the Burundi
Protocol I: Nature of the Burundi Conflict, Problems ofpeace process after his
Genocide and Exclusion and Their Solutions.appointment at a regional
prevention of war crimes, crimes against humanity andconference in November of 1995,
elimination of exclusionary policies based on ethnicity,which was later approved by the
region, religion, or gender;OAU. He held this position until
national reconciliation and the creation of the National Truthhis death on October 14, 1999.
and Reconciliation Commission.
Seventeen factions, including the
Protocol II: Democracy and Good Governance.government, Frodebu (Hutu-
– protection of fundamental human rights;dominated), and Uprona (Tutsi-
– multiparty politics;
– creation of a transitional government.dominated) all signed a cease-fire
Protocol III: Peace and Security for All.agreement in July, 1998. Theagreement also fixed the length of
– specifications for defense and security forces;
– ceasefire guidelines.negotiations at three months and
Protocol IV: Reconstruction and Development.foresaw the creation ofcommissions responsible for
guidelines for rehabilitation and resettlement of refugees and
displaced persons;negotiating issues related to the
– physical and economic reconstruction goals.establishment of a democratic,
Protocol V: Guarantees on Implementation of thepower-sharing government. Talks
Agreementbegan on July 21, 1998, in Arusha,
Implementation Monitoring Committee, includingTanzania and lasted for ten days,
representatives of Burundian Government, politicalfocusing predominantly on the
parties, the United Nations (chair), The Organization of
African Unity, and the regional Peace Initiative onrules of procedure and debate on
Burundi ensure implementation of the protocols;the root cause of the problem in
diplomatic and material support role of the internationalBurundi. Discussions resumed
– United Nations International Peacekeeping Force.behind closed doors in Arusha in
mid-October 1998, and delegates
and the mediators established four
sub-committees to address four issues agreed to earlier. The four issues on the agenda

were: the nature of the conflict, institutions and good governance, security, and economic
The Arusha peace talks excluded several armed factions, including the Front for the
Defense of Democracy (FDD), a splinter group from the CNDD. The leader of the FDD,
Colonel John Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, claims to be the true leader of CNDD, although
Nyangoma is seen by the Tanzanians as the legitimate head of party.3 This division within
the external opposition has complicated the peace process in Arusha. Nyerere insisted that
the FDD cannot take part in the talks as long as the issue of leadership was not resolved.
The FDD and the Forces for National Liberation (FNL) refused to honor the ceasefire
agreement as long as they were excluded, prompting the Government of Burundi to assert
that it was not bound by the ceasefire agreement. The Government of Burundi argued that
the inclusion of FDD and other armed groups in the peace talks is pivotal for the stability
of the country and implementation of the agreement on security matters.
By the end of 1998, three rounds of peace talks had been held in Arusha. The
progress made during the third round prompted the U.N. Security Council in November
to recommend that the countries neighboring Burundi suspend sanctions, and the UN also
appointed a special envoy to Burundi, Cheikh Tidiane Sy of Senegal. European Union
(EU) officials, however, warned that the resumption of international cooperation should
not be complete until “a peace agreement has been concluded by all the parties.” The fifth
round of talks, held in July of 1999, termed a failure by Nyerere, were scheduled to be
resumed in September. Nyerere blamed the Burundi government stating that “the
governmental delegates utilized the pretext of violence to obstruct the costly negotiations,”
though simultaneously condemning the continuation of hostilities.
Developments in 1999-2000
With the death of Nyerere, former South African President Nelson Mandela was
selected as the new facilitator in a meeting in Arusha. Most of the parties involved in the
peace process, including the government of Burundi, favored his nomination. Many were
of the opinion that the Nyerere-led negotiations had faltered because he had refused to
allow the participation of Ndayikengurukiyi’s army after it splintered from another rebel
group. Mandela, though, argued that “we cannot sideline anybody who can create
instability in the country ... we must find ways of accommodating them in these
discussions, either by inviting them to join or by addressing them separately, but we cannot
ignore them.”4 Just as the Burundian government had accused Nyerere of having a leaning
toward the Hutu rebels, FDD leader Ndayikengurukiye initially voiced reservation over
Mandela who, he argued, had, as leader of South Africa, “helped the putschist
government of Burundi with arms and helped them bypass a regional embargo.”
In July and August of 2000, another regional summit was held in Arusha in an
attempt at forging a peace agreement. Mandela called for the closing of ‘regroupment”

3 “New Leader for Hutu Rebels in Burundi.” BBC World News. May 8, 1998.
4 Foreign Broadcast Information Service, January 4, 2000.

camps5 by the end of July. An estimated 10,000 people remain in the camps for fear of
attack should they return to their homes. Mandela also set a deadline of August 28, 2000,
for the signing of a ceasefire agreement. On August 28, an partial agreement was reached
at Arusha which was signed by 14 parties, seven Hutu and seven Tutsi. The FDD and
FNL did not sign these accords. Twenty heads of state were at this meeting, including
President Clinton. The agreement calls for a transitional government and the creation of
a new upper house of parliament whose makeup would be 50% Hutu and 50% Tutsi. The
deal also calls for the integration of Hutus into the military; a heretofore Tutsi-dominated
force and the creation of a transitional government until elections are held in three years.
The FNL leader, the only rebel head to come to the meeting (the FDD and CNDD
sent low-level delegations), refused to sign because three rebel demands were not
addressed by the mediators. They called for the release of 11,000 prisoners whom the
rebels see as political detainees but are being held by the government on charges of
genocide; the further dismantling of regroupment camps; and the return of all Hutu
civilians to their own areas. They also challenge Mandela’s recommendation that Buyoya
lead the transition. The Tutsi negotiators opposed the deployment of an international
peacekeeping force in Burundi while the Hutu groups had not yet agreed to a general
amnesty. This proposed force of 2,000 is, in part, to provide security for returning Hutu
leaders that had been in exile. They also expressed concern that the 1993 genocide in
Burundi be dealt with and “not be mentioned in passing.”
On September 20, 2000, the Arusha peace agreement was revisited in Nairobi at a
regional heads of state summit, including the leaders of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda,
Tanzania, and Uganda. The three small Tutsi-led parties that had previously not signed
the Arusha accord, did so at this meeting. This time the FNL did attend, and the FDD and
CNDD only sent low-level delegations. None signed the agreement and they were given
one month to prepare for the next effort at achieving a comprehensive ceasefire. If this
deadline is not met and these groups do not attend with the purpose of ending hostilities,
the heads of state threaten the imposition of sanctions against them. At this meeting, the
regional leaders (Kenya’s Moi, Burundi’s Buyoya, Uganda’s Museveni, Rwanda’s Kagame
and Tanzania’s Mkapa) “reserved the right to take such action or initiative as may be
necessary in conjunction with the United Nations and international community in general
to put an end to the cycle of hostilities.”6 On September 25, the parties opened talks in
Arusha to select the leader of a transitional government that is to last for three years and
to nominate a committee of eight to oversee the implementation of the peace accord.
Recent Developments
In late February 2001, the FNL and FDD rebels attacked Bujumbura, resulting in
more than 40 people killed and 114 wounded. The attack on Bujumbura was the most
daring in recent months in which Hutu rebels engaged government troops in heavy
fighting. The Burundi army regained control after a week but lost over a dozen soldiers
during the week-long fighting.

5 Beginning in late 1999, the government of Burundi began forcing civilians into “regroupment
camps” around Bujumbura, allegedly to protect the civilian population from rebel attacks.
6 BBC News Online, September 20, 2000.

In April 2001, a group of soldiers stormed the government’s radio and television
station in Bujumbura and announced the ouster of President Buyoya, who was on a state
visit to Gabon. The coup was put down by Buyoya loyalists in the army and the President
returned from Gabon and regained control.
U.S. Policy
The U.S. government is not directly involved in the Burundi peace process, but has
been actively engaged in seeking a peaceful settlement in Burundi through diplomatic
means. Former Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region Howard Wolpe traveled to
Burundi and the region extensively to assist in facilitating the peace process. In
congressional testimony in March 1998, Wolpe identified the broad United States
objectives to be the prevention of another round of massive ethnic killings, ending the
violence, encouraging a negotiated settlement, and addressing humanitarian needs.7 Wolpe
also reiterated the U.S. commitment to hold the Burundian government to its promise to
disband all of the regroupment camps.
On January 19, 2000, a U.N. Security Council session on Burundi was organized by
U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He condemned the Burundian government’s policy
of forced regroupment as well as the attacks being carried out against civilians by all armed
groups. He also pledged an additional $500,000 from the U.S. to the Arusha peace
process. For fiscal year 1999, the U.S. provided over $9 million in emergency assistance
to Burundi through the U.N. and other international organizations. In FY2000, USAID
provided $12.2 million to international organizations whose activities focus on health,
nutrition, food security, agriculture, water and sanitation and distribution of non-food
emergency relief items. In addition, USAID gave $400,000 to the U.N. Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Burundi. The U.S. also provided
$22.7 million worth of food to the World Food Program (WFP). The U.S. has also given
$500,000 for a Child Survival/HIV Aids projects.8
At the Arusha talks, President Clinton told the participants that the international
community “will support your efforts to demobilize combatants and integrate them into
a national army. We will help you bring refugees home and to meet the needs of displaced
children and orphans.” He also promised assistance in the economic and social sectors
to support sustainable development and peace. While a comprehensive ceasefire is yet to
be achieved, former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger termed the framework
agreement of late August “an important step in an ongoing process to establish a secure
peace in Burundi.” The Bush Administration has not appointed a Special Envoy for the
Great Lakes region and has not yet commented on the Burundi situation. Administration
officials say the United States remains committed to the Arusha Accords.

7 Wolpe, Howard. Prepared Testimony before the House International Relations Committee,
Subcommittees on International Operations and Human Rights and Africa. March 5, 1998.
8 USAID at [http://www.usaid.gov/hum_response/ofda/burundi_fs1_fy00.html]