Will Somalis keep the peace in Burundi?

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Somalia marked its 55th Independence anniversary on July 1, and I could imagine a satirist with a sense of history in Mogadishu being amused by the events around him.

In the years when the strife in Somalia was at its worst, thousands of its people fled to, among other places, across the Gulf of Aden to the safety of Yemen.

Yemen recently went up in smoke and a Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country back to the Dark Ages to punish the Houthi rebels who ousted the government there.

Some of the Somalis who had taken refuge in Yemen came running back home. However, this time the Yemenis followed them, seeking safety in Somalia.

The Yemenis were not always nice to the African immigrants there, treating them as a long-term African resident in the capital Sanaa once put it, “worse than dogs.”

If this teaches us anything, it is that if you are foresighted and selfish in an enlightened way, you should treat other people well. You never know when you will need their generosity in turn.

Kenyans learnt this lesson in the post-election violence that consumed parts of the country at the start of 2008. That violence produced something East Africa had never seen — the first exodus of Kenyan refugees in significant numbers.

They took refuge in eastern Uganda, but the experience of people in that region who went to work or hide out in Kenya during the difficult years in Uganda had generally been a good one.

They returned the favour, taking the Kenyan refugees in, and quickly giving them land to farm.

Authorities in the Ugandan capital were alarmed, and rushed to gather up the remaining Kenyans refugees and take them far away to camps in the southwest — otherwise most of them would have “disappeared” into the local communities.

And perhaps equally intriguing to Somalis is what is happening in Burundi.

After its deadly civil war, Burundi seemed to have found peace. By 2007, the country was considered sufficiently viable to contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom.

Then President Pierre Nkurunziza got ideas about continuing in power, and decided to stand for what critics say is an illegal third term.

Protests, violence, and a failed coup attempt followed. There are now over 130,000 new Burundi refugees in DR Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania, who have fled the chaos.

In May, a UNHRC official said he thought there would never be a Burundi refugee again. He was wrong.

Now Burundian soldiers in Somalia must feel stupid. How can they be taken seriously as peacekeepers abroad, when they can’t keep the peace at home?

If Somalia continues on its current path, and Burundi also keeps on spiralling into chaos, we should not be surprised if in a few years something that no one ever even dreamed of were to happen — Somali soldiers going to Burundi to keep the peace!

Which brings us to the second lesson of the day. If you are a peacekeeper, if you want to be credible, it is not enough to enforce peace. You have to demonstrate that you are capable of it.

Telling a troubled people to do as you say, not as you do, can only take you so far in this business.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa (mgafrica.com). Twitter@cobbo3

Source: NTV

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