US envoy warns about Burundi, DR Congo political situations

21Apr 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
US envoy warns about Burundi, DR Congo political situations
  • Says Tanzania, as current chair of the East African Community, has a potentially influential role to play in ensuring peace and stability prevails across the Great Lakes region

THE Great Lakes region could experience mass violence and economic crisis caused by the unfolding political situations in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the US special envoy for the region told The Guardian in an exclusive interview yesterday.

President Pierre Nkurunziza

Speaking in Dar es Salaam, envoy Thomas Perriello noted that as the atmosphere of public unrest tied to politics remains serious in Burundi, a similar situation of political turmoil and conflict could also arise in the DRC.

And as the current chair of the East African Community (EAC), Tanzania therefore has a central role to play in ensuring that peace and stability prevails across the region despite the threatening situations in the two neighbouring countries, Perriello said.

According to the US envoy, the recent naming of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa as the new Burundi mediator has raised hope that a peaceful solution will soon be found for the tiny country’s simmering political crisis.

He noted that hardline opposition stances against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s extended rule were getting stronger and stronger within the country, and said the US government appreciated the role Tanzania has played in accommodating a huge influx of refugees from the troubled country.

But even with Tanzania’s generosity and hospitality, the main hope is to eventually see the Burundi situation being stabilized so that the refugees can eventually go back home and live there in peace, the envoy added.

On the DR Congo situation, he said this was also raising concern about the chances of maintaining regional stability.
Here again, according to Perriello, Tanzania has a potentially influential role to play given the fact that current DR Congo president Joseph Kabila spent most of his growing-up years in the country.

He also cited South Africa as another country that can play a big role in bringing about peace in the region.

The US envoy pointed to lessons learnt from the “unfortunate” Burundi episode which appear to suggest that whenever country leaders try to tamper with their national constitutions in order to stay in power, the effects can be disastrous.

He said the situation could be replicated in DR Congo “should the constitution so much cherished by its people be side-tracked.”

“(The US government) is very concerned about what could happen in the DRC because if the people’s voice is spurned in this matter, the outcome could overshadow everything else, given the sheer size of the country,” Perriello said.

But the world remains hopeful that the DRC leadership issue will also be solved in a democratic manner that respects the country’s constitution, he added.

The DRC is set to hold its general elections this year, but it is not clear yet if President Kabila will indeed be seeking to stay in power, as he indicated some years back.

Said Perriello: “I have travelled throughout the Congo and people are very excited of the opportunity (provided by the constitution). Not out of disrespect of President Kabila, but out of appreciation that he himself participated in bringing about the country from out of war to the present situation.”

He said if Kabila chooses to stay in power after ending his tenure in December this year, it could cause Africa’s second largest country to descend into cataclysm.

“The crisis in Burundi and the possible crisis in the DR Congo are crises of choice and not of necessity,” the US envoy said, asserting that they are crises manufactured by leaders meddling with the constitution in order to cling to power.

Speaking about the Great Lakes Region in general, Perriello said the continued warfare between various armed groups were more or less taking on a regional character with the possibility of other countries being drawn into the conflicts.

These are the most challenging matters for the region, along with infrastructural development, investment in education, and general social transformation, he said.

There have been some achievements in the region since he assumed the role of regional envoy last year, he added.
For example, he continued, the crisis in Burundi has been prevented from blowing up into mass violence, while efforts are continuing to contain the DRC armed groups from assuming a regional character and transform the region with social and economic investments.

He also noted that the continued political crises in the region had caused the prices of minerals produced locally to go down, raising the chances of an even more serious economic crisis eventually settling in.