Wednesday, March 30, 2016 6:50 am
The European Union plans to cut back its funding for Burundi’s lucrative peacekeeping contingent in Somalia to try to force President Pierre Nkurunziza into talks with opponents and away from the brink of ethnic conflict, diplomatic sources said.
Nkurunziza’s government has brushed off other cuts in aid from Western donors seeking a way to pressure the government to stop a year-long political crisis exploding into a new war in Africa’s volatile Great Lakes region.
Bujumbura’s 5,400-strong contingent in Somalia’s AMISOM force — which earns the state roughly $13 million a year and its soldiers a combined $52 million — may be the Achilles heel of a government that wants to keep its fractious army happy with the extra pay its troops earn from peacekeeping.
Top Burundi officers attempted, and failed, to stage a coup in May, but the rank-and-file army has broadly stayed above the political fray.
“Support for Burundi’s contingent of AMISOM cannot continue as it is,” a European diplomat said.
For each African soldier sent to Somalia, the contributing government receives $1,000 a month for wages and logistics, paid for from a pot funded by the EU. In Burundi’s case, the government keeps $200 a month and soldiers receive $800 each, a handsome bonus on top of their much lower regular pay.
Pulling the plug on funding altogether was one option, albeit the most extreme and unlikely given Burundi’s determination to stay in the force, he said.
Cutting all funding would leave the African Union (AU), which oversees AMISOM’s 22,000-strong force, having to find another donor to pay Burundi’s troops. It is already under pressure as the EU had cut back its overall funding for AMISOM saying it wants other international donors to offer more help.
A second European diplomat said cutting all funding to Burundi’s contingent was “far from being a reality right now”, but he said cash would no longer be channelled via the government and the 20 percent kept by the state, worth about $13 million a year, would be scrapped.
“There is no way we will pay that anymore,” he told Reuters, adding that the EU was conducting negotiations with the AU aimed at finding a mechanism that by-passed Bujumbura altogether.
THEY DON’T BUDGE
More than 400 people have been killed since last April when Nkurunziza said he was running for a third term in elections that he then won and which opponents said was unconstitutional.
Two percent of the population — 220,000 people — have since fled to neighbouring countries like Rwanda, which was torn apart by genocide in 1994. Like Burundi, Rwanda has an ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority.
Regional African nations and the West appear unable to defuse a crisis that increasingly resembles the slow build-up to Burundi’s 1993-2005 civil war, a conflict that pitted a Tutis-led army against Hutu rebels, and left 300,000 people dead.
Frustration at the perceived intransigence of Nkurunziza’s government has grown.
“They just don’t budge,” said another senior Western diplomat. Taking aim at the peacekeeping business had the best chance of “making an impact”, he said.