BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on impact of Nyerere Death [19991014]

BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on impact of Nyerere Death [19991014]

BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on impact of Nyerere death

NAIROBI, 14 October (IRIN) - The death on Thursday of former Tanzanian president and Burundi peace talks facilitator, Julius Nyerere, leaves the Arusha process hanging in the balance, according to Burundi analysts.

Nyerere, known as Mwalimu [teacher], died in London, aged 77. He had been diagnosed with leukaemia and suffered a massive stroke. Announcing his death over state radio, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa said: "There are many who fear that national unity will disintegrate, the union will falter and our relations with our neighbours will deteriorate following the passing of Nyerere. But Nyerere has built a sustainable foundation for national unity, the union and relations with our neighbours."

One of Tanzania's most problematic relationships has been that with neighbouring Burundi. The authorities in Bujumbura have accused Tanzania of harbouring Hutu rebels on its territory who then infiltrate Burundi to carry out attacks. The Burundi government also had bitter exchanges with Nyerere over his mediation of the external Arusha peace process, claiming he was biased.

Burundi's ambassador to Kenya, Stanislas Nakaha, told IRIN that while Burundi was saddened by the death of Nyerere, the Arusha process must continue. "Burundians will continue to negotiate, with or without Nyerere," he said. There may be a "momentary hesitation" in the process, but the external talks were as important as the internal process. "We must not lose the momentum", he added.

Analysts say Nyerere's passing can only strengthen the position of beleaguered Burundi President Pierre Buyoya who has suffered setbacks recently because of his perceived "soft" approach by many Tutsis towards Hutu rebels attacking the capital Bujumbura.

"Buyoya is now well placed to consolidate the internal peace process," a Burundian journalist told IRIN. "He will take advantage of the current void in Arusha".

Buyoya's "partenariat" with the national assembly and opposition FRODEBU politicians had been faltering because of his reduced status at home, but observers point out that the vacuum in Arusha "gives him a stronger hand to crush the rebellion". "The Arusha process was very much based on Nyerere's personality," the journalist said. "Buyoya was seen to be acknowledging the Hutu parties which caused a lot of opposition among the Tutsis. Now that Nyerere has gone, Buyoya can bow to the army's demand that the rebellion be decisively crushed."

A US-based academic and Burundi specialist told IRIN Nyerere had been a "restraining influence" and his death was likely to encourage extremists still further. "The time has now come to make overtures to the extremists", he remarked. Arusha, he said, had not worked for three main reasons. Firstly, it was difficult to get 18 sides to reach agreement. Secondly, the four negotiating committees were "arenas for further tension" and new issues frequently popped with no order of priority. Thirdly, the committee chairmen were foreigners "unfamiliar with the country". Donors were also "guilty of looking the other way", he added.

Observers say the donors, some of whom have been expressing concern over the length and cost of the Arusha process, may now resume economic cooperation directly with the country. Tuesday's incident in Rutana province in which rebels killed nine people - including two UN expatriates - may also sway donors in favour of Buyoya.

The facilitators say the four committees will meet again in Arusha in November, and postponed pre-Arusha consultations between the six major sides are due to take place in Dar es Salaam on Monday, 18 October. These talks - including the government, the national assembly, the pro-Tutsi UPRONA and PARENA parties and the pro-Hutu FRODEBU and CNDD - should have taken place on 4 October, but were put back due to Nyerere's illness.

In the meantime, top officials of the Nyerere Foundation are touring the region to discuss the Arusha process with regional leaders. A Burundi analyst noted however that many uncertainties now loom over the process "such as the timetable, the facilitator, and future funding". "Without the donors it cannot continue and the donors are very unsure," he said.


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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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