GIGA Working Paper

Ungeahnte Konsequenzen der Sanktionen in Burundi

Sanktionen sind ein wesentliches Instrument der internationalen Politik, erzeugen aber häufig Gegenaktionen der betroffenen Regierung. So auch in Burundi - mit unerwarteten Folgen, zeigt Julia Grauvogel.

With his successful coup d’état on 25 July 1996, the former Burundian president Pierre Buyoya brought the ongoing regional meditation efforts to a standstill, an occurrence that marked the preliminary failure of Burundi’s democratic transition process and pulled the country even deeper into the civil war. The neighboring countries reacted swiftly and agreed to "exert maximum pressure on the regime in Bujumbura including the imposition of economic sanctions" (Second Regional Summit on the Burundi Conflict 1996). They demanded the immediate restoration of Burundi’s National Assembly and the reinstatement of political parties as well as peace negotiations. Simultaneously, the international donors froze all assistance other than emergency aid.

The subsequent unfolding of the sanctions against Burundi was characterized by two seemingly contradictory developments: On the one hand, the regime resisted the external coercion, to the surprise of the sanction senders, who, given Burundi’s economic and geopolitical vulnerability, had expected to quickly force Buyoya into negotiations. The sanctions’ initial effect on Burundi was indeed harsh; they further paralyzed the already war‐torn economy (Kamungi et al. 2005; Khadiagala 2003). This thus raises the question of how the Buyoya government managed to withstand the pressure of one of the most comprehensive sanction regimes since the end of the Cold War.

In addition to sanction‐busting activities, the regime launched a vocal campaign against the sanctions that

1) helped it to lobby for exemptions,

2) contributed to it regaining some international legitimacy so that the international donor community renewed its engagement, and

3) shifted the blame for economic problems to the embargo.

On the other hand, Buyoya eventually engaged in the kind of regionally mediated negotiations that he had previously rejected.

According to the assessment of scholars and contemporary witnesses alike, the sanctions contributed significantly to reviving the peace process because of their severe economic consequences (Khadiagala 2003; Lemarchand 2001: 91; Maundi 2003; Ndikumana 2000; Interview, Leonidas Nijimberere; Interview, Frederic Bamvuginyumvira). However, the fact that the regime agreed to the Arusha negotiations when the sanctions’ economic impact had withered casts doubt on this interpretation.

This paper argues that the controversies surrounding the embargo became so deeply ingrained in the domestic struggle that they shaped the political contestation between the Buyoya government and the political opposition, beyond the embargo’s mere economic impact. The Buyoya government became argumentatively "self‐entrapped" in its own diplomatic campaign against the sanctions, which stressed the government’s willingness to engage in peace talks.

This paradox underscores the need to go beyond the assessment of how sanctions coerce regimes into compliance (for example, see Hufbauer et al. 2007; McGillivray and Stam 2004; Morgan and Bapat 2003) and to seriously examine their signaling dimension (Giumelli 2011). Against the backdrop of the embargo’s severe economic consequences, the sanctions against Burundi serve as a "critical case" (Flyvbjerg 2006: 230) with which to explore the importance of the signals sent by sanctions.

The paper’s findings are based on 34 semistructured interviews with diplomats, policymakers, military personnel, and journalists conducted in Burundi in August and September 2013. These interviews were crucial to understanding the respective actors’ perceptions of sanctions as guiding their responses to the regional and international pressure. Press releases from political parties and sympathizer groups as well as official documents collected in Burundi were used to supplement the analysis whenever they were available.

Although the sanctions were imposed on Burundi during the late 1990s, they still constitute an integral part of the country’s (diverse) contemporary historical narrative(s) and were thus remembered by all interviewees in great detail. Moreover, former political elites who are no longer in office were able to speak more openly about past events than they could have done at the time the sanctions were in place (Vorrath 2012).

The reminder of the paper is organized as follows. First, it situates the unfolding of the sanctions against Burundi in the broader context of the country’s democratization in the early 1990s and the subsequent civil war. Next, it explores how the Buyoya government responded to the embargo with an aggressive and fairly successful anti‐sanctions campaign. Building upon this, the fourth section analyses how the regime’s international and domestic campaign backfired. The conclusion then discusses the findings in light of past studies on the sanctions against Burundi and the current research on sanctions more generally.

Lesen Sie weiter: Julia Grauvogel, Regional Sanctions against Burundi: A Powerful Campaign and Its Unintended Consequences, GIGA Working Paper, No. 255, September 2014

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