Unending mistrust and bickering involving neighbouring countries in the East African region could derail the ambitious East Africa Community agenda of cohesion and economic development.
Countries accusing one another of sponsoring conflicts or harboring their enemies are fast threatening to put to a halt the dreams of the fastest growing economic bloc in the continent.
The decision by Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye to accuse neighbouring Rwanda of backing rebels blamed for a string of attacks on his country’s soil, including a deadly raid a week ago could sour relations between the two countries.
Burundi said the RED-Tabara group carried out a December 22 attack near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and killed 20 people including women and children.
“These armed groups have been provided with shelter, food, offices and money from the country that hosts them. I mean Rwanda,” Ndayishimiye said at an event in eastern Burundi broadcasted by local media.
“People who kill ordinary citizens, what do they want?” he said. “Why kill three-year-olds, a child who is still in his mother’s womb. They are terrorists. And we must fight them with all our energy.”
The group, which has a base in the eastern DRC province of South Kivu, emerged in 2011 and is now the most active of Burundi’s rebel groups with an estimated force of between 500 and 800 fighters.
“I told Rwanda it should know that if it continues to help someone who kills children, it is cultivating the virus of hatred between the peoples of these two countries,” Ndayishimiye said.
He said Burundi had been trying in vain for two years to persuade Kigali to hand over the rebels so they could face justice.
“I think the future is bleak for this country that is helping them,” he added, without elaborating.
The Burundian government said all but one of those killed on December 22 in the town of Vugizo were civilians, including 12 children and three women, two of whom were pregnant.
This happens even as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recently recalled its ambassador to Nairobi after summoning the Kenyan envoy in Kinshasa to protest the creation of a new coalition of Congolese political figures and rebels, in Nairobi.
Kinshasa said it was also protesting bilaterally with Kenya and within the East African Community, of which both countries are members and have been working together to bring peace to eastern DRC.
It also recalled its representative to the EAC in Arusha, Pierre Masala.
The bone of contention was the creation of a new political-military coalition of rebel leaders announced in Nairobi by the former president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni), Corneille Nangaa.
Nairobi hurriedly distanced itself from the DRC opposition figure spearheading the coalition.
The presence of the M23 rebel leader in the Kenyan capital stoked the flames of discontent in Kinshasa.
There has also been a continuous tension between Kigali and Kinshasa over bloody conflict in in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
DRC President Félix Tshisekedi’s recent comparison of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame to former Germany dictator Adolf Hitler escalated tensions.
Tshisekedi said Kagame was behaving like Hitler, and added: “I promise he will end up like Hitler”.
He has often accused Rwanda of backing m23 rebels in the east of his country, which it has always denied.
Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo said Tshisekedi’s comments were “a loud and clear threat by the DRC president, in a context where the FDLR is more armed than ever”.
Tshisekedi has previously described the Rwandan leader as “the enemy” of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a past BBC interview, he said their relationship was “cold for lack of a better word. It is he who unfortunately decided to attack the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Mr Kagame has always dismissed such talk in the past, accused Mr Tshisekedi of being a “war monger” and instead focussed on another rebel group in the east of DR Congo – the Hutu-led FDLR – which Rwanda sees as a threat.
The economic bloc that is attracting the interests of other countries in the region could be headed to more security and integration challenges following the recent admission of the peace starved Somalia.
Somalia was formally admitted as the 8th member state of the East African community (EAC), after being approved at a leaders’ summit in Arusha, Tanzania.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has already signed the Treaty of Accession in the presence of South Sudan President Salva Kiir, the current chair of the East African Community and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni at a ceremony held in Entebbe, Uganda.
The bloc has been criticized for expanding too fast at the expense of achieving meaningful integration.
Just like with the admission of Somalia, the community was criticized for approving the membership of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose eastern region remains at war.
All this is happening at a time when the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) has left the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entirely allowing local authorities to secure the troubled east.
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