Congo watchers, take some advice: ignore Burundi at your peril. Ok, that was a bit ominous, but most of us try to keep up with Rwandan and Ugandan politics – after all, those were the two countries in the East who actively took part in the 1996-2003 wars (Burundi did as well, but never officially) – and neglect Burundi.
As you surely know, Burundi just held a series of elections, most of which the opposition boycotted, alleging rigging. Hence, we now have a legislature dominated to 95% by the president’s party, the CNDD-FDD. Two opposition leaders – both former Hutu rebels – Leonard Nyangoma and Agathon Rwasa have apparently fled the country and a third, Alexis Sinduhije, has gone into hiding.
Why should the Congolese care? First, Agathon Rwasa, the former head of the FNL rebel group, has probably crossed into the Kivus. Numerous reports, including from FDLR members, indicate that he is in South Kivu and that he has linked up with FDLR and some Mai-Mai groups (Gen. Dunia’s name has popped up). The same sources indicate that Congolese army officers may have facilitated his crossing into the country. In the meantime, reports are coming out from former FNL officers and locals that the armed group has begun re-training former rebels in the Kibira forest in northwestern Burundi, possibly in connection with some of the more radical Tutsi youth groups from Bujumbura. This group is also said to have links with Hussein Rajabu, a former CNDD-FDD stalwart who is now in prison and some say that the former Tutsi officer corps (ex-FAB) is not happy that most of the procurement deals for the army now go through CNDD-FDD officers (notably Gen. Guillaume Bunyoni, Minister of Public Security).
There are also allegedly links to Congolese officials in Kinshasa. Rajabu lived in the Congolese capital during the war and has maintained good connections with people around Kabila. Pascaline Kampayano, who was also a CNDD-FDD representative in Kinshasa during the war, has spent the better part of the last several years in the Congo and is apparently there again this month. There are rumors that President Kabila may not attend President Nkurunziza’s upcoming inauguration ceremony (although Kabila tends to shy away from these events – he didn’t attend the AU summit in Kampala either).
But let’s be level-headed about this. First, even though the opposition in Burundi has been excluded from power and the CNDD-FDD is guilty of many abuses, it will be difficult to re-start a rebellion. The FNL has demobilized a lot of its soldiers, and the countries in the region are hostile to the idea of a new rebellion. It will cost its leaders a lot of legitimacy if they try rally the boys (& girls) again. Key will be the disposition of the former Tutsi officer corps – they have stayed remarkably quiet since the CNDD-FDD took over power in 2005, and the traditioally UPRONA party is the only other party represented in parliament, mais on ne sait jamais.
Secondly, it isn’t clear that Kabila stands to gain much by supporting a new Burundian rebellion. Yes, a few of his officers (Gen. Masunzu and Col. Nakabaka’s names keep cropping up) may be involved for their own reasons, but Kabila appears to be genuinely trying to clamp down on the FDLR and patronage networks in the FARDC that he doesn’t control – allowing an alliance between the Hutu rebels on his territory doesn’t make a lot of sense. Plus, the Rais seems to be intent on sticking to his deal with Kagame for the moment, and Kagame is still pretty close to Nkurunziza.
In any case, we should keep our eyes open and ears sharpened. Burundi, quo vadis?