Friday, August 22, 2003

Burundi: power sharing talks end ... process might be in trouble

This is one of those stories where you wonder if journalists are covering the same event.

The headline for this VOA story on the talks is "Burundi Negotiators Express Cautious Optimism Following ..."

News24 headlines their story "Burundi peace process in doubt".

Guess what ... the detalils provided by News24 bear out the grim assessment in their headline. It appears that the VOA, and Reuters in this story, took their lead from the statement released by South African mediator, Jacob Zuma who called the discussions "frank, focussed". But I believe his statement is what we can call "diplo-speak".

As News24 reports, a regional leaders summit on Burundi which had been scheduled for Sunday in Tanzania, has been postposed. If I recall correctly, the leaders were supposed to discuss whatever progress had been made in this week's meetings between Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye and Peter Nkrunziza, leader of the major rebel force FDD.

Ndayizeye and Nkrunziza today finished a three-day summit in Pretoria, South Africa. This was their first ever face-to-face meeting (Ndayizeye has only been president for a few months). The main issue on the agenda was power sharing and they were unable to agree on some major points. Nkrunziza wanted the posts of second vice president and speaker of the national assembly ... but the government wouldn't agree.

According to News24:
Both sides in the meeting agreed to hand the problem over to South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, the mediator, as fighting between government troops and FDD forces northwest of Bujumbura forced thousands of people from their villages.
I don't think the situation is completley hopeless but it's hardly rosy. So to go back to the issue of headlines and substance, the News24 stoy is far more precise than the VOA story ... and more substantial than the Reuters story.

The FNL is another rebel group in Burundi. They aren't engaged in any type of talks with the government.

Here is a very rough sketch of Burundian history. Like Rwanda, Burundi has a Tutsi minority and a Hutu majority. In fact, between 1890 and 1962, Rwanda and Burundi were one nation -- Ruanda-Urundi. In the decades before the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Hutus controlled the Rwandan government. Conversely, in Burundi, the Tutsis were/are in power. Recall that the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed in 1994 when the plane they were both flying in was shot out of the sky. It was this incident which marked the start of the Rwandan genocide. But less known is that ethnic warfare, between Hutus and Tutsis has plauged Burundi since about 1993, claiming an estimated 300,000 lives.

FDD = Forces for the Defence of Democracy
FNL = The National Liberation Forces