The Burundian government has reportedly instructed its Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries to begin withdrawing troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The Jan. 16 order comes after Bujumbura's repeated threats since November to abandon the mission because its troops have not been paid in months. If Burundi follows through with the order, it would deal a significant blow to AMISOM since the country supplies over 5,400 soldiers — about a quarter of the total force — to the mission intended to stabilize Somalia.
At the heart of the impasse between Burundi and the African Union is the European Union. The Continental bloc is AMISOM's largest donor; Brussels sends aid directly to the mission, which then turns the funds over to African governments that contribute troops to its cause. Recently, however, the European Union has prohibited AMISOM from paying the Burundian administration of President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial (if successful) bid to seek an unconstitutional third term has mired the country in instability. Amid credible reports of widespread human rights violations in Burundi, Brussels levied sanctions against Nkurunziza's government, freezing its AMISOM payments for more than 10 months. In an effort to find a work-around, the European Union proposed that the African Union pay Burundian soldiers participating in AMISOM directly, cutting Bujumbura out of the process. But the African Union rejected the idea, concerned that it would set a dangerous precedent for future peacekeeping missions.
Many of the states contributing to AMISOM have complained about the mission before, but Burundi's grievances have put it in a unique position. Not only have Burundian troops not been compensated in some time, but the financial perks tied to the mission are also one of Bujumbura's only reasons for staying involved in it. After all, Somalia is far from Burundi's borders, and the Nkurunziza government has no strategic interests there, save for the EU funding to be gained. AMISOM, by comparison, has been struggling to maintain its troop levels against the aggressive resistance put up by Somalia's largest militant group, al Shabaab. By threatening to pull its soldiers, Burundi hopes to compel the African Union to reach a compromise on paying its military, and fast.