It is refreshing to know that the belligerents from Burundi were meeting in Uganda yesterday for talks aimed at restoring sanity in the tiny central African country, whose countrymen and women have been at war with themselves since it gained Independence from Belgium in 1962.
More interesting, the talks chaired by the EAC appointed mediator President Yoweri Museveni, were graced by four former presidents: Jean Batiste Bagaza, Pierre Buyoya, Sylvester Ntibatunganya and Domitien Ndayizeye, signifying the willingness of the Barundi to be part of the crafted peace process.
With the exception of Ndayizeye, the other three lorded it over an ethnically divided country, with the Hutu and Tutsi not reading from the same script of national unity.
So, seeing the four former presidents huddle in Entebbe alongside other Burundi delegates signifies one of the first steps towards finding that hitherto elusive solution to the spiraling violence that has claimed the lives of over 400 people since April this year.
Unfortunately, the talks reportedly began on a low, with the Government side demanding that ‘coup plotters’ be ejected from the meeting.
It is not clear whether some of the four former presidents are part of the alleged coup plotters but, for obvious reasons this demand by the government side was untenable, because dialogue can only take place between two opposing sides, with the other parties playing the mediatory role. And, in any case, we must accept that the so called coup plotters are part of the opposition, meaning any meaningful talks should have room to accommodate them.
That noted, at this point in time it might be safe to impute that the violence in Burundi has not yet taken on an ethnic dimension; meaning the task for the parties involved in the negotiations, to agree on the political differences, is simpler.
So, as the teams head for another round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania, next year, let focus be fixed on a consensual approach that will re-ignite the spirit of peace, co-existence and national unity in Burundi.
We wish all those involved in the deliberations a Happy New Year.