Claims that President Mugabe dragged his feet over the crisis in Burundi emanate from “sheer ignorance” of the procedural realities of international affairs in general and the workings of the African Union in particular, a senior Government official has said.
The private media over the past week claimed President Mugabe’s recently ended term as AU Chair was a disaster because the bloc had not deployed a military force in Burundi.
However, President Mugabe’s spokesperson, Mr George Charamba, said a dearth of knowledge of international affairs on the part of those making the claims has led to such misinformation being published.
His views, made in an interview in Addis Ababa on Sunday morning, were given further gravitas by the outcome of AU deliberations on the Burundi issue later in the day.
Mr Charamba said: “There is a misconception that the President left Burundi unattended and that misconception is arising from sheer ignorance over how the AU handles conflict situations.
“The procedure of the AU is not to run everything from the centre, but rather it is to build from the blocs. The instrument of first intervention is always the regional entity, it is your organ of first instance in conflict resolution.
“In the case of Burundi, that organ would be the East African Community through President (Yoweri) Museveni, which explains why the President of Uganda is the point man for Africa on Burundi.
“The EAC initiative on Burundi is in full swing, and they have not indicated to the AU that they have run into a cul-de-sac.
“It would have been premature for the then Chairman to invite himself into Burundi as he worked on the recommendation of the regional bloc con- cerned.
Mr CharambA added that any decision to intervene militarily in a sovereign country with a standing government was a “very heavy one” and was “no playing matter”, especially in light of Africa’s history of foreign intervention.
“We are all seeing the horror of Libya which came about because of precipitous interventions and which also illustrated that you must proceed on the basis of AU principles and the African common position lest you are used by the West to fulfil pre-ordained invasion plans that have little to do with the society concerned,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, the then Chairman was strictly circumspect on the issue of military intervention. He felt that it was premature, he felt that the proposition had not been sufficiently canvassed and in any case, that it was disrespectful of the regional bloc’s role.”
Mr Charamba’s views were subsequently vindicated by the AU Peace and Security Council’s decision not to send troops to Burundi.
AU Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui said: “We want dialogue with the government, and the Summit decided to dispatch a high-level delegation.”
Mr Ibrahima Fall, the AU special representative for the Great Lakes region, added: “It was never the intention of the African Union to deploy a mission to Burundi without the consent of Burundian authorities … This is unimaginable.”
Burundi has always opposed any military deployment, saying such a mission would be viewed as an “invasion force”.
The Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh also said: “It is not only Burundi that is resisting this idea . . . most interveners in a country are not welcomed.”
President Jammeh said he would not support military deployment “without the consent of Burundi”.
The Gambia sits on the 15-member AU Peace and Security Council.
Burundi’s Foreign Minister Mr Alain Aime Nyamitwe said he was “satisfied” with the decision and said Bujumbura would co-operate “with the international community, particularly the African Union”.
Deployment would have been under Article IV(h) of the AU Charter which allows the bloc to intervene to stop war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Burundi plunged into crisis in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term, sparking street protests and a failed coup.