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EXCLUSIVE: Wary of Rwanda’s Plans, Burundi Pushes for Infrastructure Development in DRC’s South Kivu

Two days before Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi and Angola’s Joao Lourenco held a virtual summit on October 7, a special meeting took place in Burundi.

A delegation of high ranking DRC government officials led by Foreign Affairs State Minister, Marie Tumba Nzeza met with Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Albert Shingiro during the Second Session of the Bilateral Ministerial Consultation on Peace and Security between Burundi and DRC.

Senior Burundian officials from the military, Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure also attended the high level meeting.

For Burundi, according to officials who attended the meeting, their main objective is pacification of South Kivu which has lately turned into a sanctuary for armed movements.

For example, Gitega believes Rwanda continues to support the Red Tabara Movement which has in recent months carried out attacks inside Burundian territory.

The movement has not only threatened Burundi’s security but also orchestrated massacres against Banyamulenge in South Kivu.

The Banyamulenge community literally serves as Burundi’s buffer against armed groups linked to Rwanda.

Defeating the Banyamulenge would leave Burundi exposed to routine attacks from DRC-based militants.

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Rwanda has repeatedly denied supporting the Red Tabara movement but Gitega remains unconvinced.

ChimpReports understands that Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye refused to participate in the regional leaders’ mini-summit due to the presence of President Kagame.

Ndayishimiye recently described Rwanda as hostile and untrustworthy neighbor which has kept a “thorn under Burundi’s foot.”

To Burundi, regional talks are not enough without concrete action on ground.

It’s this thinking that saw Burundi invite DRC officials to discuss ways of returning peace to South Kivu as one of the ways of countering Rwanda’s militarism.

Shingiro led the Burundian delegation

Inside joint talks

During the meeting held in the conference room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation in Bujumbura, Minister Shingiro praised the “excellent relations and cooperation” between the two countries which he said should be “further strengthened.”

The two delegations discussed the management of security issues along their common borders, the promotion of bilateral trade between and the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to minutes of the two countries’ discussions in Bujumbura, both parties agreed that insecurity in the Kivus was at the heart of both countries’ economic stagnation.

They pointed out the increased activities of armed movements, poor road network linking both countries and cross border crimes such as illicit trade and human trafficking among others.

After identifying the challenges facing both countries, they agreed to establish a Memorandum of Understanding on the strengthening and maintenance of Peace and Security on the common borders.

They further decided to establish a framework for the exchange of information between the administrative authorities of the two countries at all levels; initiate regular meetings of the military, police and administrative authorities of the border provinces of Burundi and DRC; set up joint stabilization mechanisms for the Rusizi / Ruzizi plain that take sustainable development into consideration, with the objective of making Lake Tanganyika their “mare nostrum”, – common heritage, and securing the entire area around borders.

Both parties also agreed to rehabilitate Bukavu-Uvira National Road, 10 km of which have already been paved to facilitate the flow of goods and people between Burundi and DRC.

They requested the two countries to speed up the process of rehabilitating the bridge that links the province of Cibitoke in Burundi and the province of South Kivu in DRC; and regulate and increase cross-border trade in the best interests of the economies of both countries.

Chibitoke has previously been attacked by rebels who quickly return to DRC.

Life in the borderland, which extends to Bujumbura (Burundi’s economic capital) and Uvira (the second largest city in South Kivu), includes small-scale trade in food and clothes (mostly by Congolese women) and larger-scale trade in beer and sugar.

Familial ties straddle border communities, students travel across the border in both directions, and social activities such as cross-border football games are common.

Building better roads and bridges and eliminating non-tariff barriers could see a boom in cross border trade between the two countries.

Rebel groups which exploit poverty and hopelessness among the youth in South Kivu would as well face a big blow due to the creation of opportunities as a result of social economic development in the region.

This development also comes at a time DRC and Uganda are in talks to build roads inside DRC territory to facilitate cross border trade and also counter the security threat posed by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels.

Countering rebels

During the meeting in Bujumbura, both DRC and Burundi agreed to put in place a “joint operational plan to neutralize negative forces and other armed groups destabilizing the two countries, in particular by organizing coordinated patrols on both sides of their common border.”

They also moved to set up a “pedestrian bridge connecting Gihanga to Kagina in South Kivu with the view of jointly combating cross-border fraud and smuggling as well as illicit trafficking in natural resources.”

Burundi and DRC will also establish a joint mechanism to protect the environment along the common border, in this case the coast of Lake Tanganyika and the Rusizi / Ruzizi plain and reactivate the activities of the Joint Technical Commission responsible for the Demarcation and Materialization of the common border between the two countries.

The Rusizi plain, the only terrestrial border between DRC and Burundi, has seen important interand intra-communal clashes on the DRC side of the border.

Multiple armed groups of various sizes and kinds operate from there, including Burundian rebels who make occasional incursions into Burundi.

To counter this threat, both parties agreed to exchange of information and intelligence between the Defense Forces and the Security Services, in particular on cross-border security; and also involve the Navy forces of both countries in the control of Lake Tanganyika through coordinated patrols, to prevent any activity of negative forces operating along Lake Tanganyika.

Refugees

Following the 2015 political crisis in Burundi leading to a failed coup attempt, thousands of Burundians fled to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Gitega and Kinshasa agreed to sign a Bilateral Agreement for the “management of the stay of nationals” of the two countries in their respective territories.

They further decided to reactivate the Burundi-DRC High Commissioner for Refugees Tripartite to, among other things, relocate Burundian refugee camps in accordance with the standards set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and encourage their voluntary return to their respective countries;

Both parties also decided to instruct their migration services to study the issue of juxtaposed border posts; set up a Permanent Mixed Commission in charge of Political, Defense and Security issues; and harmonize and standardize the tools and practices which contribute to reducing the consequences of the cross-border circulation of diseases through the movements of populations of the two countries.

After the meeting, Burundian Minister, Nzeza met with President Ndayishimiye who before renewing the condolences of the Congolese Government following the death of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

She invited her counterpart Shingiro to pay a visit to the DRC.

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