Burundi-Rwanda Relations: The Road to Normalization

Growing tensions between Burundi and Rwanda have not only affected the social and economic well-being of both countries, but also threatened regional security and successful regional economic integration envisaged to take place through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Mutual mistrust, political suspicion, and the prevalence of armed rebellion in the region have heightened diplomatic spats between these neighbouring states. Both governments have repeatedly made each other responsible for attacks by unidentified groups in the border regions. Tensions are also mounting between Rwanda and Uganda and it is alleged that these countries, including Burundi, back insurgents based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This potentially compounds the region’s security challenges. Attention given by the regional actors to the tension that surfaced between Burundi and Rwanda after the 2015 attempted coup in Burundi is very limited. In 2020, following the ascension of Evariste Ndayishimiye to the presidency in Burundi, both countries embarked on a journey that would help them end tensions and restore bilateral ties. Even though the meeting of officials from both countries opened a new window to normalize their relations and improve trade and cross border movement, it is facing early challenges and so far, only little progress has been made. Thus, a concerted and collaborative effort from regional and international actors is needed to encourage subsequent talks that address specific details. In addition, during this time when African countries are heading for regional integration through the implementation of the AfCFTA, peaceful relations amongst states is a pre-condition. Therefore, the African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) should take advantage of this initiative taken by these two countries to restore ties and help them to resolve the protracted hostile relationships and contribute to Africa’s ambitious continental project.