Dispatches from the Field: Meetings with the African Union and UN Special Representative in Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa: The Council’s last day of its visiting mission started with an informal meeting with Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union Haile Menkerios. Council members shared with Menkerios their impressions from the Burundi leg of the mission and asked him for his views about the dynamics within the AU, particularly in the Peace and Security Council (PSC), regarding the situation in Burundi.
Among the issues raised were attitudes in Addis Ababa towards reported Rwandan involvement in the crisis; the possibility of greater UN and AU engagement in the East African Community(EAC)-led mediation; and the feasibility of deploying some form of AU presence in the country. Menkerious emphasised that getting Burundian stakeholders to participate in dialogue about practical ways forward was key to resolving the political situation. He also spoke briefly about the situation in Somalia, touching upon the political process, the timetable for elections, and issues of coordination among the AU, the UN and non-governmental organisations.
Council members then held an informal joint meeting with the PSC, co-chaired by Uruguay as this month’s Security Council president and Equatorial Guinea, the current chair of the PSC. Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, attended the meeting. France, on behalf of the Security Council, and Uganda, on behalf of the PSC, briefed the participants, followed by a lively conversation with many states taking the floor to discuss the situation in Burundi.
Several participants stressed the urgency of addressing the situation in Burundi before it deteriorates further and possibly takes on ethnic dimensions, despite the position of the government of Burundi that the situation is not of such concern. Some PSC members noted that the AU will take up the situation in Burundi at its summit at the end of January. The UK stressed that all participants at the summit must understand the urgency of the situation. Several PSC members called on the Security Council to adopt a Chapter VII resolution authorising the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) mandated by the African Union, and to support it financially.
However, a few Council members expressed the view that without consent from the Burundi government, a peacekeeping mission would not achieve its objectives at this juncture and could prove counterproductive.
Another issue raised by Council members was the differing views they heard in Burundi regarding the possible deployment of AU human rights and military observers, whether as a stand alone mission or as the first stage of the deployment of the proposed AU peacekeeping mission. On the one hand, Nkurunziza did not seem inclined to accept any AU deployment; but on the other, several of his ministers said that the issue is being negotiated with the AU and were more positive about the deployment. The AU authorised the deployment of 100 human rights and military observers on 17 October 2015 [PSC/PR/COMM.(DLI) to which Burundi agreed “in principle”. At present, 10 out of 100 observers authorised by the AU have been deployed to Burundi by the AU with Burundian consent, but have not started their work as Burundi and the AU have yet to agree on a memorandum of understanding regarding the terms of their deployment. Council members asked about the status of negotiations and were told that the negotiations have stalled because Burundi is insisting that the observers work in tandem with Burundian officials and produce a joint report. Council members were told that the AU cannot accept conditions that negate the independence of the observers. It was suggested that the current authorised 100 observers would not be sufficient to monitor the situation.
During the meeting, many participants referred to the EAC mediation led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Several speakers commented that the mediation has been slow and inefficient, and were interested in the role that the newly deployed UN support team, led by the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor, and the AU can play in this regard. Speakers emphasised that the efforts of all three organisations needed to be joint and coordinated.
Due to the lengthy discussion on Burundi, participants were left with little time to discuss the second agenda item, the situation in Somalia. As a result only the UK, on behalf of the Security Council, and Ethiopia, on behalf of the PSC, briefed participants, and there were no interventions from others. Both briefers commended AMISOM for its efforts, but stressed that Al-Shabaab continues to pose a serious threat to peace and security in the region. They spoke on the need for better cooperation between the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the UN Support Office for Somalia. Briefers said that the political process was at a critical juncture and it was essential for the future of Somalia to ensure its success. The UK expressed optimism that the process will move forward despite the impasse in the talks taking place in the Somali National Consultative Forum aimed at reaching agreement on an electoral model for elections to be held this year. Ethiopia said it was unfortunate that the EU had decided to cut the allowances of AMISOM’s uniformed personnel by 20 percent as of 1 January this year.
Council members came out of the PSC meeting somewhat satisfied with the detailed discussion of steps to be taken to address the situation in Burundi, and the engagement of many participants on the issue. Some also regarded positively the extent to which common views were expressed by a number of members of the PSC.
Council Members’ Reflections on the Mission
Council members return to New York with mixed feelings about the effectiveness and utility of the visiting mission. They believe that their visit to Burundi was important to show the stakeholders the importance that the Council attaches to the current situation and their understanding of its potential gravity. It also allowed some non-governmental actors to share their knowledge and views of the current state of affairs in Burundi. Some Council members found that the trip provided useful information that would allow them to better assess this situation in the future. However, they noted that there were often differing assessments of the situation by the various interlocutors, with some suggesting that the situation is mostly stable, while others raised the alarm over grave human rights violations, insecurity and a possible increase in ethnic-based violence.
Council members were encouraged by the signs of flexibility regarding the deployment of AU observers and a greater role for the UN in the mediation seen in their meetings with the foreign minister, first vice president and members of political parties. However, they were disappointed by what they heard from President Nkurinziza, and his lack of willingness to compromise on the above issues, and on the inclusiveness of the dialogue with the opposition. Council members felt that they had presented their generally unified views on inclusive dialogue, greater UN involvement in the mediation, and the need for Burundian consent to an international presence of some form to Nkurinziza in the clearest possible terms. Given the similarities in their positions during the visiting mission, some members are hoping to build on this momentum in the coming weeks as they discuss various contingency planning options, including the idea of an international police mission. While the Council is expected to continue to put pressure on the Burundi government, members are in agreement that that adopting a Chapter VII resolution authorising MAPRUBO, or any other international presence, without Burundian consent would not promote a solution to the current impasse.