Holding a dead man hostage won’t change situation in Burundi


For the last one year, regional and world leaders have been pleading with President Pierre Nkurunziza to put the interests of Burundi before his own and not to destroy his country. They started by asking him not to stand for another election.

He ignored their pleas and got himself re-elected.

Burundians contested his right to rule again. He came down hard on them, arrested and imprisoned many, killed and continues to kill others. Many fled the country, afraid for their lives.

World leaders continue to plead with him and still he ignores them. When they threaten him with sanctions or force, he simply dares them to do it.

Most of those dealing with Burundi have assumed one thing: that its leadership has the decency to do the right thing, including protecting those it purports to lead.

They have assumed that Burundian authorities have the courage to admit failure and the humility to accept well-intentioned advice.

As it happens, they have been wrong. Burundian authorities are deaf to all pleas and impervious to reason. The notion of common decency might very well be from an alien race from outer space.

How else can one explain the government’s refusal to release the body of Jacques Bihozagara who died in their prison to his family for burial unless they agree to certain conditions?

The condition is that the family must first sign papers confirming that he died of natural causes and was not killed by the government.

There is a lot wrong with this unnatural demand on the grieving family.

They are asking the family to certify the cause of death when they have no way of knowing what he died of. Yet the man died in their custody, so they should know the cause of death. What they are doing, in effect, is holding a dead man hostage.

The Burundi government is trying to absolve itself of guilt in Bihozagara’s death. But in doing so, they actually confirm that there must have been foul play that they are aware of, if in fact they are not responsible for it.

They are also playing politics with the death of a man because he happens to have been Rwandan.

The arrest and detention of Bihozagara in the first place and of many other Rwandans is part of a recent pattern of acts of provocation.

Many other Rwandans have been picked up by Burundian authorities, detained and tortured on the pretext that they are spies. Bihozagara has attracted attention because of his status as a former minister and ambassador.

Burundi has accused Rwanda of backing anti-Nkurunziza politicians and recruiting rebels from refugee camps and giving them military training before infiltrating them back into Burundi.

All these accusations have been proved to be baseless. A man captured and proudly paraded before the international media as undeniable proof of Rwanda’s spying turned out to be a petty thief and mentally unstable, hardly the sort to send on such a mission.

Bihozagara himself, also accused of spying, has not been anywhere near government circles since he left its service. If anything, he has been closer to Burundi where he had business interests.

When Rwanda proposed to relocate Burundian refugees to a third country to prevent any possible recruitment from the camps, some in the international community who had spread those accusations or believed them were thrown into a panic and pleaded the government to drop such plans.

They knew them to be untrue.

The discounted accusations prove one thing: that Burundian authorities are not only inept in matters of governance, they are also unimaginative and cannot think of more convincing lies. The question is why they carry on regardless.

One of the reasons is the classic example of trying to deflect attention from internal problems by blaming them on outsiders. This way, you project yourself as the innocent victim of external aggressors, especially if they are Rwanda that has already been painted as the villain of the region.

And then, of course, you earn the sympathy of those ready to believe the tale or those who have created it in the first place.

There is another sinister reason: to draw Rwanda into Burundi’s internal problems and obtain the excuse to turn a political squabble about who should hold power into a quarrel among citizens along an ethnic divide and justify mass killings.

The authorities are also probably acting on the instructions of certain powers whose involvement in Rwanda’s recent history and the guilt resulting from it blinds them against all reason.

They have never stopped plotting against this country and would be happy to have another opportunity to inflict damage.

So far the provocation has not worked. Rwanda has refused to be drawn into Burundi’s internal quarrels. More intelligent people would have seen that by now and changed tactics. But no, they will go on doing the same thing.

You can understand why ordinary Burundians have lost confidence in their leadership. Holding a dead man hostage will not change that.

New Times Rwanda.

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