The Burundian government has announced the closure of its border with Rwanda.
According to Burundian Minister of the Interior Martin Niteretse, it is “the bad neighborhood of Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda” which explains this decision taken and immediately applied on Thursday January 11 to close the land border between Burundi and Rwanda. The Minister of the Interior immediately announced the expulsion of all Rwandan nationals from Burundi.
In Bujumbura, the economic capital, the Minister of the Interior further explained that Rwanda hosts “enemies who harm the country” by evoking the rebels of the RED-Tabara group, the main rebellion hostile to the power of President Évariste Ndayishimiye. A group which launched an attack which left 20 dead on December 22, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. On December 30, the Burundian president accused Rwanda of supporting these rebels.
”We stopped all relations with him (Kagame) until he returns to better feelings”, Mr. Niteretse explained again on Thursday.
For their part, the Rwandan authorities deny any support for RED-Tabara and published a brief statement in which they explain: “having learned through the media of the unilateral decision of the government of Burundi to once again close the borders with Rwanda” .
A decision described as “regrettable” and which will “restrict the movement of people and goods between the two countries”. Rwanda has no problem recalling that this decision violates the principles of regional cooperation and integration of the East African Community.
For many observers, this closure can be seen above all in the desire of the Burundian authorities to follow in the footsteps of Kinshasa. “It’s the famous one, the enemy of my friend is my enemy”, explains an African diplomat. Nothing seems to justify this closure strategically or from a logistical point of view. The very real attacks of the RED-Tabara rebels are carried out from South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the big neighbor yet never singled out by Burundi.
Plunged into an economic crisis that continues to worsen as the days go by, Burundian officials have never found a solution. The plundering of state resources by the resistance fighters who took the reins of the country has emptied the coffers, their excessive appetite in the mining sector has scared away investors and cut off the country’s main income. Burundi is today bloodless. Without income, without currency, the shortages are increasing every day and the lack of gasoline has multiplied the crisis.
”The government hopes to draw dividends from its agreements with Kinshasa,” explains a regular in the region. “Dividends for him but also for the people, because he knows that he will only be able to last if he provides some answers to the now impossible daily life of the Burundians”.
The latest report from UN experts on the DRC published a few days ago documented not only the fact that Burundian soldiers were present in South Kivu as part of the East African Community mission and to fight against rebel movements like the RED-Tabara but also in North Kivu, in Congolese army uniforms to try to counter the advance of the M23 rebels that Kinshasa has never been able to contain despite its army, its mercenaries Westerners, community militias and the FDLR, these opponents of the Paul Kagame regime.
Obviously, there is little doubt that this Burundian participation in the Congolese war effort implies certain counterparts from Kinshasa. Paul Kagame’s Rwanda has made the export of its army one of its diplomatic and economic assets on the continent. Évariste Ndayishimiye is tempted to follow him at least with Tshisekedi’s DRC. But the possible funds which will return to the country, if they do not go directly into the pockets of the leaders, will barely make it possible to plug the gaping holes in all the sectors of activity which are broken down.
This Burundian bet is particularly risky. First, the country places itself a little more at odds with other members of the East African Community who did not appreciate being rejected by Tshisekedi who had called on their service before “throw away” believing that they were not doing enough against the M23.
Then, the closure of this border with Rwanda will immediately cause new problems for the Burundian economy. “Hundreds of Rwandans who have significant financial means go very regularly for a weekend or more to Bujumbura. It’s a popular place, much more relaxed than Kigali for partying. The Rwandan francs which thus enter the Burundian circuit are not negligible. This closure is all the more incomprehensible since Tshisekedi, despite everything he says about relations between Kigali and Kinshasa, has never closed his border. Business between the two states is essential in the east of the country”explains a businessman from Goma.
It is also a hard blow for all the Burundian market gardeners in the Cibitoke region, close to the border and who make the bulk of their turnover with Rwanda.
In short, Burundi does not seem to have much to gain from this border closure, especially at the start of the year when shortages are legion. “Clearly, with this closure, Burundi is shooting itself in the foot”, explains a former diplomat. “We must hope that the Congolese compensation will be commensurate with the efforts and will not take long or that the IMF and the World Bank agree to release cash quickly. The country is truly on the verge of bankruptcy”continues an attentive observer of the region.