The Burundian government has announced the indefinite closure of all its land borders with Rwanda, citing concerns over the “bad neighborhood of Paul Kagame,” whom the Minister of Interior accuses of harboring enemies of the country.
This decision comes as a surprise, given that the two nations seemed to be on a path toward normalizing relations for over a year, especially after Gitega reopened its border with Rwanda, which had been closed during the height of the 2015 crisis in Burundi.
The recent attack on a village near Gatumba, about fifteen kilometers east of Bujumbura and facing Uvira in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), claimed by Burundian rebels of RED-Tabara, ignited tensions. However, it appears to be the tip of the iceberg.
Following this attack, the Burundian President expressed strong condemnation, blaming Rwanda for “hosting, financing, and arming” the RED-Tabara rebels, whom he labels as “terrorists.”
The issue lies in the fact that this incursion occurred far from the Rwandan border and was carried out by Burundian rebels based in South Kivu, where the Burundian army has been conducting military operations for over a year to dislodge them.
Nevertheless, President Evariste Ndayishimiye remains steadfast, as relations with Kigali began to deteriorate over five months ago when he signed a military agreement with Kinshasa. Since then, Burundi has reportedly deployed up to four battalions of soldiers secretly in North Kivu, fighting alongside the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) against the M23, supported by Rwanda, according to the UN.
Observers suggest that Gitega is infuriated, having lost dozens of soldiers in these battles and faced a budding mutiny within its contingent in the DRC. The Burundian president suspects Kigali of resupplying arms and fighters to the RED-Tabara rebellion, which he believes was losing momentum.
In response, the Burundian president had to take action, particularly as the Rwandan issue was causing deep divisions within his inner circle.
On the other hand, Burundi’s opposition and independent civil society have denounced this move as a “diversionary tactic” by the government to distract from what they term as a “failure in state management.” They point to shortages of various kinds, soaring prices, a severe lack of foreign exchange, and extreme impoverishment of the population.