Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has made his first foreign trip since his last one which coincided with an abortive coup of May 2015. Ironically, his last foreign trip was in Tanzania. He was in Dar es Salaam to attend the East African Community emergency summit meeting that was discussing the political crisis in Burundi. The meeting in Dar es Salaam was attended by the East African Community (EAC) heads of states, South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. The meeting was aimed at settling the political crisis brought about by the contestation around Nkurunziza’s controversial third-term bid. While in Tanzania, a section of the army announced that they had overthrown him. Against all odds, Nkurunziza was able to return to Burundi and foil the coup – fortuitously though. His troubles before returning were douented well by the EastAfrican newspaper. Despite the backlash from the East African countries, the African Union (AU) and the world at large, Nkurunziza managed to win the controversial July 2015 elections. Since his inauguration in August 2015, Burundi has faced political violence with dissidents being killed or disappearing. Nkurunziza, who is as self-styled born-again Christian and a football enthusiast managed to consolidate his power domestically. The renegade army officials surrendered and despite street protests, Nkurunziza remained steadfast.

President Nkurunziza – a football enthusiast

Why Tanzania?

His first foreign visit to Tanzania since his controversial election is an ingenious and nifty international comeback attempt – although some sources indicate that the meeting was initiated by President John Magufuli. President Nkurunziza has failed to show up in all EAC summit meetings and has also not travelled to any of the AU meetings since he left Tanzania on that fateful night when General Godefroid Niyombereh announced the coup. Burundi has been represented by other officials in all international meetings.

On 20 July 2017, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli received Nkurunziza in the northwest town of Ngara – a town inhabited by many Burundi refugees. Reports indicate that Nkurunziza is seeking to revive political dialogue on the crisis in Burundi – something which an aide to President Benjamin Mkapa who is the mediator confirmed in a Tweet. The Burundi contingent also said that the meetings was aimed at fostering cooperation between Tanzania and Burundi. Speaking in Swahili, President Nkurunziza urged the Burundi refugees in Tanzania to return home saying that the country is now safe – a point that was reiterated by his counterpart Magufuli. The address by President Nkurunziza was short and precise. Many of the Burundi people who have settled in Ngara, Kagera region came to see their president who brought greetings from “their fellow Burundians.”

President Magufuli welcomes President Nkurunziza to Tanzania [online pictures]

Strategic Trip

The trip was strategic in a number of ways. Firstly, the choice of Ngara town as opposed to the commercial city of Dar es Salaam was calculative. With the ghosts of Dar es Salaam on 13 May 2015 it was safe and wise to have the meeting in a town closer home for President Nkurunziza. Secondly, as way to show that Burundi was now safe, Nkurunziza was able to directly address the refugees of Burundi and urged them to return home. It was evident that the receiving crowd – which had Burundians was happy to see their president. Thirdly, President Magufuli, who is the current Chairperson of the EAC, had already paid courtesy to all regional leaders after his election as president of Tanzania in November 2015 with the exception to Burundi’s Nkurunziza – this explains the suggestion that the meeting was initiated by President Magufuli.

The Tanzanian president himself has made a handful of international travels. Magufuli, whose maiden international trip was to Rwanda, has now met all the East African regional leaders. Magufuli has so far made trips to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Although he has met other foreign dignitaries at home, his foreign policy agenda seems to be more Africa-focused. His hosting of Nkurunziza in Ngara is yet another manifestation of his foreign policy agenda. During his address in Ngara, Magufuli was in praise of Nkurunziza and promised to work with all its neighbors. Finally, the trip by Nkurunziza is an indication that he has consolidated power at home and he can now make other international trips.

Nicodemus Minde

Nairobi

21 July 2017