OPERATION CURRICULUM – BURUNDI

This operation by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was meant to assist the African Union (AU) Special Protection Force in Burundi by protecting exiled leaders returning to the country in 2001 after the conflict that resulted in genocide. There was still no cease-fire in place when the SANDF deployed in Burundi, but the need to restore peace and allow opposition leaders to participate in a transitional government prompted South Africa to undertake this ambitious yet dangerous mission.

Operation Curriculum was endorsed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council, giving it international recognition and legitimacy. After the SANDF had been running this mission for two years, the AU took the lead and South Africa was joined by Ethiopia and Mozambique. This was initially an AU mission but was changed into a UN mission in 2004. The UN, however, focused on peacekeeping, excluding the protection unit as part of its mandate. This led to South African troops being deployed in the capital Bujumbura as VIP Protectors. A Memorandum of Understanding had to be signed with the AU to enable South African forces to act as VIPs outside of Bujumbura.

At first, the SANDF deployed a battalion of 701 troops for six month, and they would be relieved on a rotational basis by other South African troops. The numbers for SANDF troops eventually rose to 1266 as the need to enforce peace Increased. In addition, the interim government of Burundi asked the SANDF to train some 600 members of the Burundi Defence Force to prepare them to take over as the VIP protection unit upon expiry of tile South African troop’s mandate.

The peacekeeping and security mission in Burundi were led by two South Africans Lieutenant General Sipho Binda as an AU Force Commander and later Major General Derrick Mgwebi as the UN Force Commander

The SANDF started to gradually decrease the number of its troops from 2004 after Burundi’s successful and internationally recognised election, but South African soldiers were instead requested to support the UN in its wider peacekeeping mandate. The operation came to an end when South Africa repatriated the last troops in December 2009, leaving Burundi peaceful and on its feet after ending a civil war that had lasted for 15 years.

At the SANDF's farewell ceremony when soldiers were lowering a South Africa flag, African Union representative, Mamadou Bah, thanked South Africa on behalf of the government of Burundi. “We thank the South Africans for the tremendous work they have done over so many years. Burundi will make the best of this opportunity.” he said. The country has since experienced a booming economy with investments flooding in. Burundi’s, president, Pierre Nkurunziza, said South Africa’s support was Immeasurable. During a recent visit to Bujumbura by South African government delegation, President Nkurunziza said the relationship between the two Countries, built from the time that South Africa was facilitating peace, should be strengthened. "As far as our country is concerned, the foundation for building a peaceful and prosperous country has already been set up. I am confident and firmly believe that investing in our country will create jobs, pave the way for sustainable development and improve living standards for the peoples of Burundi and South Africa," said the president.