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Zimbabwe Draws Criticism for Assisting Burundi's SADC Bid

Burundi President Sworn In
Burundi President Sworn In

Burundian Foreign Minister Ambassador Ezechiel Mbigira met with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Wednesday, to seek support for admission into the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In meeting with Mnangagwa, Mbigira, who was representing President Pierre Nkurunzina, told journalists gathered at State House that he was seeking Zimbabwe’s support in its application to join SADC and said he was confident Zimbabwe will support it given the two country’s strong diplomatic and historical ties.

“Zimbabwe is a sister country, it’s a country with which we have a common history and a common future that’s why we need to relate with this country in a very special way,” Mbigira told journalists.

Burundi attempted to join SADC in 2017, but the application was put on hold. However, Mbigira expressed confidence of its acceptance.

“As you know Burundi has applied to become a member of SADC, and the process of dealing with our application is going on very well.”

He said, “We believe that after the assessment mission that is preparing to come to Burundi towards the end of May, we believe the decision will be taken for Burundi to become a member of SADC. We believe that Zimbabwe will continue to support Burundi in its bid.”

Legislator and chair of Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Committee, Kindness Paradza, said Zimbabwe supports Burundi’s efforts.

He said Burundi’s acceptance into SADC will help ease trade among countries, as in the case of the Common Market of East and Southern Africa (COMESA), of which both Zimbabwe and Burundi are members.

“Burundi is part of COMESA and Zimbabwe is also part of COMESA, and also recently the Zimbabwe parliament has ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area, so we are removing all the trade barriers within the continent, and it’s a good idea if they agree, our SADC leaders, to admit Burundi, it’s ok, it’s a brother,” said Paradza.

However, not all in Zimbabwe support Burundi’s effort to join the regional body, or Zimbabwe’s efforts to assist. Among them is the director of Human Rights Watch, Southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, who cites Burundi’s poor record on human rights and also President Nkurunziza’s decision to change the constitution in 2015 so as to run a third term, which sparked conflict in the country.

Mavhinga said SADC should weigh Burundi’s human rights record and factor that into its decision to admit it.

“There are a lot of problems taking place in Burundi that involve serious human rights violations, and that is what is forcing Burundi to have to send an envoy to Zimbabwe to help make a case for it to be admitted to SADC,” said Mavhinga.

Responding to this, Paradza said allegations of human rights violations should be raised with the African Union.

“Burundi is part of the African Union, Burundi is part of COMESA, if there are any misdemeanors which are offending human rights advocates, surely they must go and have that sorted out with the African Union. You are aware that even within the African Union, there’s the Human Rights Commission, so I think, let’s not mix issues,” said Paradza.

In addition to the AU and COMESA, Burundi is also a member of the East African Community or EAC, an intergovernmental organization composed of six countries in the African Great Lakes region in eastern Africa which also includes Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame is the current chair of the EAC.