By Chris Muhizi

Chris Muhizi is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. 

Burundi has closed its border with Rwanda and unilaterally suspended diplomatic ties. The action was taken after the government claimed Rwanda was supporting RED Tabara, which is considered a rebel group by the Burundi government.

Martin Niteretse, Burundi’s interior Minister, spoke to reporters on Thursday, January 18. “We have shut down our borders with Rwanda; anyone attempting to enter will be unable to do so. … After having noted that we had a bad neighbor, (Rwandan President) Paul Kagame . . . we stopped all relations with him until he returns to better feelings,” said the minister, adding that Rwanda “shelters criminals who harm Burundians.”

RED Tabara is based in the unstable eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and is thought to have between 500-800 combatants. Rwanda denies providing the rebel group with support.

Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, issued a statement noting that Burundi’s decision was regrettable, and went against regional cooperation standards of the East African Community.

RED Tabara claimed responsibility for an attack on December 22 that killed 20 people, the majority of them civilians. The attack took place about 20 kilometers away from Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura.

Previously, in 2015, following the disputed reelection of then-President Pierre Nkurunziza, Burundi closed its border with Rwanda due to emerging unrest. At the time, Rwanda was charged by the authorities with supporting demonstrators and inciting the coup’s perpetrators.

After Burundi returned to stability in 2022, and elected Evariste Ndayishimiye as president, relations appeared to be improving, and trade gradually began to increase.

Rwandan government regrets border closure  

The Rwandan government said in a short statement that it “regrets the unilateral closure of the border by Burundi. … This unfortunate decision will restrict the free circulation of people and goods between the two countries and violate the principles of regional cooperation and the integration of the East Africa Community.”

RED-Tabara emerged in 2011, according to the Associated Press, and has its base in the eastern DRC region of South Kivu.

Over the years, relations frequently have been turbulent between Burundi and Rwanda. Although relations improved after Ndayishimiye came to office in 2020, since then relations have once again deteriorated.

The mineral-rich eastern DRC has been a battleground between multiple armed groups for a number of years.

EAC bloc calls for diplomatic resolution

The EAC regional bloc called for partner states to respect each other’s sovereignty and integrity and implement the EAC Dispute Resolution Mechanism.

“I encourage our esteemed partner states to deploy peaceful settlement of any disputes and restraint, strictly observing the spirit of our treaty and particularly on peaceful co-existence and good neighborliness,” reads a statement released on January 20 by EAC Secretary General Peter Mutuku Mathuki.