African Union and U.N. fear that Burundi conflict could destabilize the region

Hundreds gather for the funeral procession of Emmanuel Ndere Yimana, an opposition supporter assassinated July 21, 2015, in Bujumbura, Burundi. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The weekend assassination of Burundi’s former military chief Jean Bikomagu and the killing of the president’s security adviser Lieutenant General Adolphe Nshimirimana earlier this month drew warnings from the head of the African Union that the already fragile situation in Burundi could worsen and hurt neighboring countries.

“This despicable act, and multiple other acts of violence recorded in recent months, illustrates yet again the gravity of the situation in Burundi – and the real risk of seeing a further deterioration with catastrophic consequences both for the country itself, and for the whole region,” said African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in a statement.

She urged a peaceful resolution to the discord in the country. Just a few days earlier, the U.N. shared similar concerns and also called on all sides to come to an agreement and restore peace.

“We urge all sides to resume dialogue before the situation spirals completely out of control. Burundi has been slipping closer to the edge with every high-profile attack and killing, and we call on leaders on all sides to take concrete steps to renounce the use of violence and to resolve differences peacefully,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, on Friday.

Burundi endured a brutal 13-year civil war. It ended with the signing of the Arusha accord and a new constitution. For 10 years Burundi stood as a model for reconciliation, but that was thrown into turmoil when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for what opponents say is an unconstitutional third term.

Since April, nearly 100 people have been killed and more than 600 arrested. A failed bid to overthrow Nkurunziza by members of the military made matters worse. With order restored, Nkurunziza proceeded to win a disputed re-election.

The country continues to teeter on the brink. An open letter from academics in the United States, Africa and elsewhere warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of the potential consequences of inaction. That was two months ago. Since then, attacks on political officials from both sides of the conflict are on the rise.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is leading the mediation effort for Burundi. Meanwhile, central and east Africa are experiencing turmoil spilling over from conflicts in the Central African Republic, Somalia and South Sudan. Further instability is felt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. Dlamini-Zuma worries that if the situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate that it could cause greater harm in the already fragile region.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.