Since 23 December 2018, a standoff has been waged between the African Union Commission and Burundi over the decision to reduce the Burundi contingent in Somalia by 1,000 troops. The Burundian army challenges the measure of the African Union Commission, which in its eyes, violates the agreement of 30 November 2018 signed in Ethiopia.
By Joël Nsabiye
In correspondence of 19 December 2018, the AU Peace and Security Department commissioned the United Nations Support Office in Somalia, in collaboration with Somalia peacekeeping troops – AMISOM, to facilitate the of 1000 military personnel of the Burundian contingent taking effect on February 28, 2019.
Second country provider with 5,400 soldiers, Burundi is behind Uganda, which totals 6,200 peacekeepers in Somalia out of a total of 21,500 soldiers of the Amisom. The reduction in the size of the Burundian contingent will imperatively lead to a shortfall for the public finances of this country, already on its knees, following the sanctions of the EU and its member countries. Until then the EU sends every 15 months 15.7 million euros to the bank of the Republic of Burundi (BRB) to pay the sales and rental of Burundian military equipment in Somalia.
The Burundian army is against this measure. “The decision of the AU commission is out of step with the strategic document validated on November 30, 2018 in Ethiopia by the coordination committee of military operations in Somalia” said the spokesman of the National Defense Forces Burundaises (FDNB) .
In a press release of 23 December 2019, Floribert Biyereke explains that in the aforementioned document, it was specified that the Burundian contingent would be reduced from 341 soldiers to 28 February 2019. “The 1000 soldiers to reduce should come from all quotas contributing countries in Somalia, “ he said.
The AU Commission and Burundi disagree on the content of the document validated at the end of November in Ethiopia during the 27th meeting of the Committee on Military Operations in Somalia. The AU commission stated in its 19 December correspondence that the 1,000 soldiers must be reduced by the Burundian contingent.
The FDNB relies on the Burundian authorities. During the media release of December 23, 2019, the spokesman of this institution asks the Burundian authorities to plead with the authorities empowered for the decision of the AU commission to be reconsidered.
The war of figures in relation to the number of Burundian soldiers to reduce the Burundian contingent in Somalia and a new rebound of already strained relations between Burundi and the African Union. The two did not already agree on the international arrest warrants issued against the alleged perpetrators of the October 21, 1993 coup against President Melchior Ndadaye. In the statement of 2 December 2018, Mussa Faki, President of the African Union said that the said arrest warrants were likely to torpedo the peace process already undermined by the refusal of the Burundian government to negotiate with those he calls “putschists”. This position has earned him an outcry of criticism and denunciations from Burundian institutions.
A decision that comforts civil society actors
The move to significantly reduce the Burundian contingent in Somalia is welcomed by some civil society activists, who since 2015 had launched the “Bring back our soldiers” campaign.
In the aftermath of the failed coup of May 13, 2015, exiled civil society activists campaigned for the return of military personnel deployed abroad as part of peacekeeping operations. In an interview with the CITIZEN newspaper on January 22, 2016, Vital Nshimirimana, then president of the local organization FORSC, said that Burundian soldiers on peacekeeping missions abroad should return to defend their people.
The revenue of Amisom was one of the main sources of foreign currency of the country, under sanctions since 2016.