South African defence minister and African Union Burundi peace facilitator Charles Nqakula will Friday in Bujumbura meet various parties to the Great Lakes state’s protracted peace process to decide on the withdrawal of the SA National Defence Force contingent based there since 2001.
Nqakula, in his role as facilitator of the Burundi peace process last month told the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that the SANDF deployed there under Operation Curriculum and part of the African Union Special Task Force (AUSTF) would be home by the end of March.
“The period from 1 to 31 January will be used as a ‘mop-up” phase`,” Nqakula said according to a UNSC transcript of the briefing. The facilitation team will scale down its operations and the AUSTF will “begin its withdrawal, which should be completed by the end of March, when the facilitation will also close down.”
His spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, says the defence ministry will be “able to provide answers” on the winding up of SA`s first and oldest peace mission “after a meeting of all stakeholders concerned with the Burundi issue”.
The SA contingent was last month said to number 1024 troops.
SA deployed troops to Burundi under the AU flag at the behest of then peace facilitator Nelson Mandela to safeguard returning leaders from the various insurgent groups that were at the time fighting government forces.
The UN later took over the mission but withdrew after the signing of a Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement in 2006. SA at the time decided to stay on – again under the AU banner – in order to guarantee the peace and support post-conflict reconstruction.
Analysts say it is time for Burundi to stand on its own feet. Brenthurst Foundation Africa analyst Rear Admiral Steve Stead (Ret) says SA should have withdrawn from the country long ago. ”The principals were using & abusing the troops for their personal needs, which had nothing to do with reaching a workable [peace]. The withdrawal of the troops will force them to face up to the challenge.”
Military Academy analyst Francois Vrey also says “it is about time.”
“Burundi is perhaps the one mission displaying success (or at least not failure),” he says, although he adds there is some debate regarding how one measures success in such missions.
The UN mission in Congo and the hybrid UN-AU operation in Sudan are continuously marred by backsliding by various parties.
The test of success, Vrey says may well be the conduct of the parties and leaders in the “first year after the departure of SANDF contingent”.
The UN News Centre reported in December that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remains concerned about the situation in Burundi, saying there was still a lack of “political will to overcome their differences and look to the future for the benefit of their country.”
As a result he recommended a 12-month extension to the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) in his latest report on that body`s activities.