By ZEPHANIA UBWANI
Talks aimed to end political violence in strife-torn Burundi resume in Arusha next week under former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa. Sources close to the office of the facilitator of Inter-Burundi Dialogue said some opposition leaders who fled the country after being implicated in the the May 2015 coup attempt against the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza had not been invited.
“They will not show up because they are wanted at home for subversive activities at home,” a source speaking on condition of anonymity told the Daily Monitor, adding that the exiled politicians Bujumbura authorities allege were behind the 2015/2016 bloody protests and resultant killings, are also not expected to join the talks.
A statement issued yesterday by the office of the facilitator through the East African Community (EAC) announced the commencement of the formal dialogue scheduled for February 16th to 18th at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC).
The convening of the session followed what was described as “rigorous consultations” the facilitator made with various stakeholders within and outside Burundi. After that, Mkapa and his team identified an eight-point agenda raised by all stakeholders and agreed to be the main sticking points which he reported to the summit of the EAC heads of state in September last year.
“This eight-point agenda, which will form the thrust of the dialogue and subsequent negotiations, in no particular order of importance”, the statement said.
The main sticking points include security and commitment to end all forms of violence; commitment to the rule of law and an end to impunity; status of the implementation of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement; strengthening of democratic culture and opening up of political space; and social and humanitarian issues.
Others are, implementation of the EAC summit decision of July 6th, 2015 on the Formation of the Government of National Unity; impact of the crisis on the economy; and the relationship between Burundi, its neighbours and other international partners.
In the initial phase of this dialogue which is by and large a political process, the facilitator will invite some of the political parties and important political actors to whom he will introduce the unpacked eight-point agenda to determine areas of convergence and divergence.
Other stakeholders like the civil society organisations, religious groups, as well as women and youth will be invited in later sessions for a similar purpose.
It is the expectation of the facilitator that, in this initial dialogue, inputs from participant will draw up an outline of the would-be agreement to be continuously refined until it fully agreed upon by all stakeholders and can be signed as a final agreement hopefully in June, 2017 as he envisages.
On January 16th this year, Mr Mkapa met a section of externally-based Burundi opposition politicians and other stakeholders involved in the peace dialogue but who could not attend the session held in Bujumbura last December.
Among those who were invited were 24 members of CNARED, a coalition of leaders opposed to President Nkurunziza’s rule. Only six responded to the invitation. The group has been critical of the way the former Tanzanian head of state is handling the talks and has accused him of siding with the current government in Bujumbura which they see as being illegitimate.
But Frederic Bamvuginyumvira, the chairman of the opposition Frodebu party said Mr Mkapa this time around was considerate to the exiled Burundi opposition.
“We asked the facilitator that the Burundi government and members of the opposition should agree on the composition of this government of national union and its mission,” he said. Another opposition leader for the FNL party Jacques Bigirimana remarked; “Burundians must understand that it is time to choose peace because it is priceless.”