OPINION: Africa’s leaders fail the people of Burundi

The modern African Union (AU) was formed in 2002 from the bones of the 39-year-old Organisation of African Unity (OAU). It was determined to avoid a repeat of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when OAU members looked on helplessly, paralysed by their policy of non-interference.

So the new continental body gave itself power to intervene to stop war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is deeply humiliating for the AU that it failed when this ability was first put to the test. Particularly degrading is the fact that the stumble came in Rwanda's neighbour Burundi.

For months ahead of their summit in Addis Ababa, African leaders were expected to vote for deploying 5,000 green-helmeted peacekeepers to stop Burundi's slide back to civil war and possible genocide.

The violence was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's determination to contest an unconstitutional third term in power. More than 450 people have died in protests against this. Neighbouring states have been forced to accommodate more than 250,000 Burundians fleeing the violence.

Nkurunziza set his face against having AU peacekeepers in his country. He warned that he would treat them as an invading force.

In the event, his African peers blinked. They did not vote on deploying free helmets to Burundi and opted instead to send a high-level delegation to persuade Nkurunziza and his opponents to turn down the violence.

This falls far short of the international clamouring - added to by United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon at the opening of the AU summit - for firm and decisive action.

The African leaders' reluctance to deliver the firm action they have been promising the international community left diplomats following the summit asking what has happened to the much-vaunted undertaking to find African solutions to African problems?

Tragically, the Burundian people have been let down.

Far from showing signs of improvement, their situation is deteriorating.

Amnesty International produced video evidence at the time of the summit of at least five mass graves in Burundi used by presidential supporters to bury their slain opponents.

The international community appears to be in no doubt about the seriousness of what is happening in Burundi

The African leaders have the same information - probably more. So what are they waiting for?

Jean-Jacques Cornish is the Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News . Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish