Burundi government operatives took to Twitter, and to the streets, on Saturday and Sunday to protest against an imminent deployment of peacekeeping forces by the African Union to quell chaos in the tiny central African nation.
Officials from both the Burundi Presidency and the Vice Presidents’ office used the microblogging site to give an impression of a country galvanised against an AU mission Bujumbura has called an “invasion force.”
This was despite assurance from the African Union on Friday that the forces meant no harm other than protect civilians.
Mr Willy Nyamitwe, the Communication and Media Advisor for President Pierre Nkurunziza, wrote a series of twitter messages where he declared the entire country was against the AU force known as the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (Maprobu).
“[There] are marches in all provinces against the deployment of AU troop invasion,” he wrote on Sunday morning.
He had earlier posed a retweet that stated: “If the people of Burundi in their diversity are against foreign invasion, who will be against them?”
Instead, Mr Nyamitwe projected public support for delegations of up to 14 political groups due to meet in Kampala on Monday for peace talks mediated by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
AU APPROVED PLANS TO SEND 5,000 TROOPS TO BURUNDI
Ten days ago, the African Union Peace and Security Council approved the sending of troops to clash-hit Burundi despite initial opposition from the Burundi by invoking a rarely-used clause in AU Constitutive Act which provides for sending of troops to a member country under circumstances of war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity without that country’s permission.
This was in response to reports of revenge killings in the capital Bujumbura where more than 400 people have been killed since April, when the ruling National Centre for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza for a controversial third term in office.
The Peace and Security Council has powers to authorise an intervention force for humanitarian, peace and security purposes but it also requires an endorsement by the UN Security Council, which means that troops could be headed to Bujumbura.
AU CHAIR SEEKS CONSENT
On Friday, AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma wrote to President Pierre Nkurunziza seeking consent to have troops deployed even as she supported the peace talks.
"Dr Dlamini Zuma stressed that the AU has no other agenda than to assist the government and people of Burundi at their hour of need, consistent with its commitment to promote African solutions to African problems,” a statement from the AU stated on Friday.
But Bujumbura opposed the deployment saying it is capable of quelling the violence on its own.
A diplomat at the African Union on Sunday told the Nation that Burundi is against deployment of the proposed 5,000 soldiers because it would negate the participation of its own military in missions abroad.
“You may recall Burundi soldiers are in the Amisom (African Union Mission in Somalia) and in the Central African Republic. Their participation there is a major export which is not only good for their image but also a source of finances,” the diplomat who requested not to be named said on phone.
On Saturday Burundi Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo participated in public demonstrations against the deployment of AU forces arguing the country had not been consulted when the decision was made, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Sunday, in what appeared to be a calculated move to discredit the AU’s bid, the Vice Presidency Special Advisor Nancy Mutoni also ran a chain of tweets with pictures showing the protesters ostensibly from all parts of Burundi.
If this strategy succeeds, Burundi would have tuned a page in the use of social media, just months after activists accused the government of blocking the site when protests started to oppose Nukurnziza’s third-term candidature.