Child Soldiers in BurundiThere is a widespread issue of child soldiers in Burundi. It is not uncommon for armed militias in conflict zones to recruit children without proper training and send them to the front lines, often using them as mere cannon fodder.  

Burundi, a small nation bordered by Rwanda to the north and Tanzania to the east, still bears the scars of a 12-year civil war that began in 1993 and ended in 2005. Even almost 20 years later, it is still one of the poorest nations on the planet, with thousands of children becoming soldiers during the conflict.

Child soldiers in Burundi were recruited by armed groups for various roles, not just as frontline fighters. They had no say in the matter, as the groups forced them to perform tasks ranging from cooking to guarding. Additionally, girls were often coerced into sexual acts and arranged marriages with older men.

Civil War

The Burundian Civil War took the lives of more than 300,000 people and left more than one million more displaced. The conflict was a result of the long-term tensions and unrest between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi ethnic populations. Burundi’s first Hutu President got elected in 1993 and was later assassinated by the Tutsi army. This act of murder of a Hutu-born president caused the nation to plunge into a state of mass genocide.

Many families had their children forcibly taken; some children got kidnapped at school while those in refugee camps volunteered to join the militias, hoping to find a better life.

The growing poverty rates pushed some children into the military as they sought the financial means to send money back home to their loved ones. Many of these children later discovered that there would be no wages for them, with only 6% of child soldiers in Burundi receiving any form of payment for their service(s). Following their subjection to inhumane abuse and acts of atrocities, many of them live on to experience the pain for several years.

Due to the corrupt and secretive nature of recruiting children as soldiers, official figures are difficult to determine. There are no accurate estimates of how many child soldiers in Burundi lost their lives in action.

Demobilization and Reintegration

While it remains a fact that society’s most vulnerable citizens play roles in a war they do not understand, a number of poverty-reduction and reintegration programs are working toward bringing about positive change. These programs focus on demobilizing former child soldiers in Burundi and providing them with the support and rehabilitation necessary to get back into society.

In 2000, most active groups in the conflict signed the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in a partnership that set the foundations for ending the civil war. Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa oversaw the agreement.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) created a framework in 2001 to develop a demobilization action plan, which the Burundi Government signed. The goal of the plan was to reintegrate a total of 5,500 child soldiers back into their communities through financial aid, mental health support and medical support.

Amnesty International emphasized that plans and programs must prioritize providing support to sexual violence survivors, with additional assistance to pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Throughout the war, Amnesty International documented acts of human rights violation to inform the global community. These reports exerted pressure on both the Burundi Government and armed militias to prioritize the well-being of civilians during future negotiations.

UNICEF’s project failed to include most child soldiers once they turned 18, underscoring the importance of efforts from other charities in preventing re-recruitment. World Vision (WV) prioritizes preventing recruitment through educational programs that aim to empower and protect young people. Providing financial support to families is also crucial in reducing the temptation of bribery from militant groups. WV continues to support reintegration by collaborating with small local organizations.

War Child’s Efforts

War Child collaborates with former child soldiers to establish “safe spaces” where they can meet and attend classes to further their education. Those aged 18 or older are offered employment opportunities and mentoring to supplement their vocational training.

Since its establishment in Burundi in 2011, War Child has witnessed the likelihood of further violence, as seen in 2016. The organization utilizes its platform to focus on prevention, leading the Economic Empowerment of Youth Toward Peacebuilding and Crisis Prevention project. The project examines why children feel compelled to join militias while identifying community actions that can provide protection.

Hope for Better Days

While child exploitation persists in Burundi, ongoing efforts from both local and international organizations to create a safer, more enabling environment for children in the country have resulted in some progress. The hope is for every child in Burundi to have the assurance of fundamental human rights and remain protected from the terror that comes in times of conflict.

– Yasmin Hailes
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Burundi
Burundi, located in Central Africa, is one of the least developed countries in the world. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 85% of its population lives in poverty, with 80-90% of people living in rural areas where agriculture is the main source of livelihood.

Although there is limited data on elderly poverty in Burundi, the country’s life expectancy in 2020 was 62, significantly lower than the 2020 global average of 72. Yet, in 2019, the age dependency ratio — the ratio of unemployed elderly dependents to working-age people — in Burundi was 95.2%, a value significantly higher than the 85.1% global average. The country’s high dependency ratio reflects the inordinate financial stress that its working population, and the economy as a whole, face in supporting the elderly. Factors compounding this stress include a high level of food insecurity; a steadily rising population; poor access to health, education and clean water; and susceptibility to climate-related devastation.  

The Concerns of Burundi’s Elderly

As early as 1999, Cécilie Siboniyo, an 80-year-old woman living in the Buraniro Refugee camp, expressed concern that children were becoming less well-educated and losing their sense of community responsibility. She noted that increasing distractions and a growing lack of respect for elders were making it difficult to teach social values. She was hopeful that directing media attention to this problem would help pave the way for a brighter future.

Still, Abtwahi Al Hajj, a 77-year-old man living in Ngozi, Burundi, feared for the future. He worried that young people no longer felt a duty to care for the elderly.

Such concerns are valid. A comparative analysis of ageism in Belgium and Burundi found that, while both Burundian and Belgian adults living in Belgium valued the elderly, Burundians living in their own country saw the elderly as poor and weak. The study correlated this perception to a lack of social and economic resources and a “lack of government spending on older people (pension and health care systems)” in less developed countries like Burundi.

Need for Action

Land shortages, changing weather patterns and overpopulation in Burundi are making survival increasingly difficult for a population that relies upon agriculture for food and income. With more than 60% of the population undernourished, malnutrition is one of the leading causes of death in the country.

To ensure progress and a better life for Burundi’s elderly, social and economic resources must go toward helping the many who live in poverty. According to a World Bank report, targeting pensions to support elderly people who are responsible for households and children would also have a significant impact on reducing poverty in Burundi overall.

Positive Impact of Organizations in Burundi

Despite the severity of the situation, numerous organizations have partnered with the Burundi government to provide help for the elderly who face poverty and food insecurity.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has partnered with the United Nations to support the Burundi government in providing immediate and long-term assistance for the elderly and vulnerable. In 2022, WFP and its donors assisted 995,651 Burundians in need, an act of service that the organization has committed itself to continue.

The World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have also helped negotiate policies to make the country’s most valuable crop, coffee, more lucrative. Now, European and U.S. companies purchase coffee directly from Burundian producers. USAID is also working to help improve the country’s agricultural resource base. In addition to providing better seed varieties, it is helping to advance crop and livestock production, provide guidance for soil preservation and ensure that the most vulnerable have access to a healthy, diversified diet.

Additionally, USAID is working to build social welfare in Burundi, emphasizing food security, democracy, economic growth and health care. It has strengthened the health system by ensuring access to quality maternal and child care, medications and other basic necessities.

Finally, the African Union has developed the Maputo Protocol to promote human rights and the rights of women, with specific provisions for protecting women who are elderly. In late 2022, the African Union Commission and Gender, Peace and Security Programme concluded a joint mission to Burundi to advance the implementation of the Maputo Protocol, which the Burundi government signed in 2003. The hope is that the country will fully adopt and enforce the protocol by July 2023.

A Brighter Future

Although elderly poverty remains a growing problem in Burundi, the Burundi government and numerous international organizations are working to ensure a better future for the country’s elderly and population at large. Such a clear commitment to this goal is sure to inspire hope and positive change.

Chidinma Nwoha
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Relief in Burundi with Sanctions Lifting
The United States and European Union lifted aid-focused sanctions in the past year on Burundi. After six years, the U.S. removed trade sanctions on the African country in 2021, and as of Dec. 12, 2022, the EU also lifted sanctions. Enacted during Burundi’s political crisis, the sanctions perpetuated poverty levels in the country, according to The Citizen. Burundi’s leaders look forward to accelerated economic growth and poverty relief in Burundi with sanctions lifting.

In 2015, former President Pierre Nkurunziza bid for a third consecutive term, and Burundi underwent a political crisis resulting in 1,200 deaths and 400,000 people fleeing their country. In response, the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions on Burundi to bar the corrupt allocation of relief funds and work more directly with nongovernmental agencies in the country. At the time of Nkurunziza’s third run, Burundi experienced major social disparity and political instability.

Political Instability in Burundi

At Burundi’s height of political corruption, government officials had tried to take NGO funding and inhibited meetings with donors. The U.S. and EU implemented economic sanctions to suspend direct aid to the Burundi government as a preventive measure. In the face of sanctions, the Burundi government chose a policy of confrontation over compromise, according to the International Crisis Group. External aid accounted for more than 50% of the funding for Burundi’s development projects. Once the sanctions cut foreign direct investment, life in Burundi became drastically more expensive.

Burundi’s Costs of Living Rose

Once sanctions occurred, everyday expenses and essentials sharply rose, according to the Crisis Group. Fuel shortages made commutes expensive, with bus tickets doubling and fish prices tripling to cover diesel costs. Burundians struggled with rising food and transportation costs, working multiple jobs and living off credit lines. From 2004 to 2016, Burundi’s annual growth rate fell from a gross domestic product average of 4.2% to −0.6%. Burundi’s inflation rates soared from 4.4% in 2014 to 16.4% in 2017. The Crisis Group estimates Burundi lost a decade of health and education advancements.

Poverty Reduction in Burundi

Burundi officials see the road to economic recovery and hope to boost bilateral trade ties with the reopening of the country’s borders. Burundi plans to revamp the Bujumbura trading port and two more trading posts with neighboring countries to further encourage the flow of imports and economic growth.

Poverty relief in Burundi with sanctions lifting show promise. Burundi’s inflation rates are stabilizing, dropping to 8.4% in 2021. The African Development Bank Group projects GDP growth of 4.6% in 2023, with poverty rates on track to improve.

 – Micaella Balderrama
Photo: Flickr

Railway Connection
In January 2022, the governments of two African countries, Burundi and Tanzania, entered into a $900 million agreement to build a connecting railway between the two nations’ capitals. This railway deal has come about due to both countries’ economies showing remarkable growth and a significant number of added jobs in both nations’ workforces. Additionally, the deal will positively impact trade and decrease poverty rates for both Tanzania and Burundi.

Poverty in Burundi

Burundi is a landlocked African country that ranks as the most impoverished nation globally. The country struggles with food insecurity and a poverty rate that is challenging to decrease. Burundi’s poverty rate now hovers at about 70%, increasing from 64.9% in 2013.

A lack of access to clean water and Burundi’s dependence on agriculture as a primary source of income exacerbates Burundi’s struggles. Agriculture’s status as the nation’s main source of income is likely to change as the progress on the railway commences.

Burundi’s economy dried up in 2015 as the government went through electoral changes that led to a contraction in the economy, according to the World Bank. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic also led to a halt in Burundian economic growth. However, the new railway deal with Tanzania could increase trade and job availability and boost both countries economically.

Poverty in Tanzania

Tanzania has struggled to improve its economy and decrease its poverty rate, although it has had more success in this regard in comparison to Burundi. Since 2000, Tanzania’s economy has ranked as “one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies,” with an annually increasing GDP of almost 7%. However, Tanzania’s economic growth dipped to 2.1% in fiscal year 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic pummeled the country. Fortunately, Tanzania is bouncing back economically as the nation regains its footing.

Tanzania’s primary business sectors with the most significant economic contributions are agricultural processing and mining. Both business sectors remained steady in the past year in terms of work and output, and even with inflation and the ongoing pandemic, the sectors remained stable in their economic contributions. With that in mind, the nation is determined to branch out to other economic sectors and not rely so heavily on agriculture and mining. The railway deal between Tanzania and Burundi will ignite new economic growth and development opportunities for various sectors in Tanzania.

Tanzania and Burundi’s Workforces

Tanzania and Burundi have large workforces in agriculture and mining. In 2020, Tanzania’s agricultural workforce accounted for close to 65% of the country’s overall workforce while Tanzania’s mining industry employed more than 310,000 individuals in 2019. Up to 160,000 Burundians rely on mining for their livelihoods. As of 2019, more than 85% of the Burundian population depended on agriculture as their primary source of income.

Tanzania’s and Burundi’s governments are determined to expand their workforces to generate economic growth with the new railway deal. Burundi’s industrial and structural workforce contributes less than 10% to the country’s overall gross domestic product (GDP). The average salary for a Burundian construction worker is 690,000 BIF, roughly $340 per month. Anyone working in construction in Burundi is heavily underpaid.

Tanzania’s construction workers often do not have formal training. The monthly salary of Tanzanian construction workers is slightly higher than the average wages of Burundi’s construction workers. The highest average salary for a Tanzanian construction worker is 1,830,062.00 TZS, roughly $700 a month.

The Tanzanian and Burundian governments are implementing a railway deal to develop a railroad to connect. This could help the countries could provide new jobs, increase salaries for construction workers and lessen dependence on agriculture and mining.

The Potential Impact of the Railway Deal

The two governments developed the railway deal to create inter-nation trade and travel and improve both economies simultaneously. Developing the integrated railway network will take several months and maintenance will require trained professionals to begin construction and keep the railways functional.

In the United States, 119 miles or 190 kilometers of rail work require 4,000 professionals for construction and maintenance and additional work in the surrounding areas. The Tanzania and Burundi deal will span a minimum of 282 kilometers; thus, the potential for job opportunities in Tanzania and Burundi is significant.

There are expectations of further possibilities for increased trade and new partnerships to develop as the railway starts operating. Tanzania and Burundi expect the added trade routes will enhance trade with the East African Communities (EAC), according to All Africa.

Tanzania and Burundi’s trade efforts are significant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For all regional markets in Africa, the Tanzania and Burundi new railway system could create inter-regional trade, boost employment rates, drop poverty rates and increase salaries for all involved.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Burundi
The aftermath of the long-lasting Burundian Civil War manifests as poverty, trauma and inequality in Burundi. These factors devastate the mental health of people in Burundi; depression, anxiety and PTSD are common in adults and children alike.

An Overview of Burundi

From 1993 to 2005, the Republic of Burundi, a country located in East Africa, endured a violent civil war stemming from ethnic conflicts between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. Although the civil war officially came to an end 17 years ago, ethnic violence and injustice persist, causing many to live in fear or flee as refugees. Furthermore, the long-term impacts of the civil war linger in the form of poverty and mental illness.

According to the World Food Program U.S.A, Burundi ranks as one of the most impoverished nations globally, with a staggering poverty rate of 65%. Furthermore, on the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI), Burundi ranks 185th out of 189 nations. “The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.” Burundi’s ranking places the nation “in the low human development category.”

With 12.2 million citizens crammed into 9,920 square miles, overpopulation and food insecurity are major problems. Malaria, measles, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are common causes of death in Burundi. COVID-19 and a lack of adequate medical care exacerbate poor living conditions within the country. These factors push mental health treatment to the back burner.

Case Study

The aftermath of the war created a ripple of trauma for many citizens. A 2018 study by Nkengurutse and Bitangumutwenzi illuminates the severity of mental health in Burundi. The study included 120 subjects from ages 15 to 55. The results were frighteningly dire: 100% of patients had some form of moderate to severe mental illness. About 57% suffered depression, 20% had “psychotic features,” 13% had bipolar disorder, 8% received a schizophrenia diagnosis and 65% were victims of trauma.

Subjects remained as inpatients for about 20 days. Mental health stigma (60%) and “poor economic insertion” (90%) stood as barriers to full recovery. After a year, 30% of treated patients reported a full recovery while 42% went into relapse. This study illustrates the sheer volume of Burundians that struggle with mental illness and the factors presenting barriers in mental health recovery.

The Good News

Sports unite warring factions of Burundi, reducing the ethnic tensions prevalent across the nation. Burundi recognizes sports as an outlet, never missing a Summer Olympic Game since its first debut in the Olympics in 1996. Athletes from Burundi also compete in the African Wrestling Championship, winning gold and silver medals. Among women, soccer offers many females a source of income, providing a way to use their talents to make a living, the Guardian explains. Soccer also grants these girls and women independence and freedom, a rare commodity for many Burundian females who often face parental pressures to marry as teenagers. Athletes provide role models for young Burundians and boost morale throughout the country, directly improving mental health and confidence.

Why Mental Health Matters

Poor mental health directly correlates with poverty. The Psychiatric Times observed that childhood poverty may lead to depression and anxiety, a decline in school performance and an increased rate of “psychiatric disorders in adulthood.” This impact on education is evident in Burundi as the nation’s literacy rate stood at about 68% in 2017, well below the world average of 86%.

In addition, poverty has direct links to depression, anxiety, psychological distress and suicidality. This causal relationship between poverty and mental illness creates a constant loop that is especially dangerous in Burundi where it is extremely difficult to escape the cycle of poverty. Poverty leads to poor mental health, which impedes the ability of individuals to pull themselves out of the depths of poverty, thus worsening their mental states. In 2019, the Mental Health Innovation Network stated that “90% of people with mental illnesses have no access to treatment, especially in [impoverished] and rural areas.”

Organizations Assist

While UNICEF’s mental health services in 2020 gave 160,000 Burundian children access to mental health resources, partially alleviating the issue, there are still millions of Burundians in need of mental health treatment.

Human Health Aid–Burundi (HHA Burundi) is a nonprofit that “medical students, psychologists and social workers” established in 2005. The organization works with Burundian communities, “especially children and women who suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma and other psychosocial consequences of their war experiences,” to improve “access to mental health care and psychosocial support.” HHA Burundi also provides direct aid to refugees by sending clothing, food and other necessities. Through programs such as Health School and Sanitation Training in Burundi, HHA Burundi transforms lives.

In addition, UNICEF secured $9.8 million worth of funds for Burundi in 2020 for the provision of education, food, medicine and other humanitarian needs. Aid lessens the economic and emotional strain in Burundi, therefore, contributing to positive mental health.

While addressing mental health in Burundi is a matter of urgency, several organizations are stepping in to assist. Furthermore, sport provides citizens an outlet for trauma, giving Burundians a source of hope in a war-torn country. As organizations strive to push mental health to the forefront of foreign aid, the hope is for Burundians to receive the mental health assistance they require to thrive.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr

Burundian Refugees
Burundi is a country in East Africa comprising three ethnic groups of the same cultural background, history and language. The Hutu and Tutsi groups are responsible for years of war that plagued the Burundi communities. After 12 years of war, a ceasefire went into effect in 2005, ending the Burundian Civil War. However, Burundian refugees are just now returning to their homes after initially fleeing their violent living conditions.

The Civil War left approximately 200,000 people dead, and many displaced. To prevent attacks, civilians had to enter camps, which resulted in malnutrition, disease and death. The war resulted in a 19% increase in poverty between 1994 and 2006. According to the World Food Program (WFP), Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with more than 50% of the population living in poverty.

The Fleeing of Burundian People

Many Burundians fled to surrounding countries due to the war, political inconsistency and human rights violations. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Burundi since 2015. Many refused to return until it was safe.

The majority of Burundian refugees, more than 200,000, resided in Tanzania. Rwanda hosted more than 80,000 in the Mahama camp, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held 45,000.

Underfunding became an increasing problem with many of the refugees living in camps. People had limited access to resources such as food and classrooms, and shelters began to deteriorate. Experts determined that approximately 2 million people in Burundi were food insecure during October 2017.

The Efforts to Make Refugees’ House a Home Once More

Although the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and partners have not encouraged refugees to return, they are working with relevant governments to assist those who do return to Burundi. In 2018, UNHCR and its partners launched a Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan for that very reason of support. More funding is necessary to sustain a large amount of returning refugees.

Included in the refugee return package are household items, three months rations, cash and non-food items. The cash grant increased in 2020 from $75 to $150 an adult and $35 to $75 a child. The increase is to ensure sustainability for three months.

Making a Safe Return Home

President Ndayishimiye’s call for refugees to return home finally occurred in June 2020. Since then, convoys of around 1,500 refugees are arriving in Burundi every week. Now that the political tension has subsided, refugees have the opportunity to return safely.

A 2021 Burundi Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan that UNHCR created is also in place. The 2021 Burundi Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan goals are to implement livelihood projects, increase the value of companies, strengthen programs to access and improve health services, water and sanitation, education, social protection and human rights.

Additionally, the community developed a joint response plan along with Burundian authorities to ensure a stress-free return, a safe environment and access to food, shelter, water and sanitation, education, health and job opportunities.

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR and partners are working to ensure a safe transition from camps to Burundi. COVID-19 symptom checks, rapid tests and social isolation are all mandated.

Overall, the success of this plan is dependent solely upon funding. Burundian refugees could potentially build their lives and create stability with support from the community itself, UNHCR and partners and the Government of Burundi.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Delay in Administering Booster Shots
In early September 2021, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials called for a delay in administering booster shots until the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more accessible to low-and middle-income countries. While wealthier nations are already offering booster shots to their fully vaccinated citizens to protect against COVID-19, other low-income countries, such as the African nation of Burundi, are just recently rolling out their first round of vaccines. WHO officials argue that these doses of booster shots would be more beneficial in ending the global pandemic if countries allocate them to developing nations instead.

Prioritizing Developing Nations

This is not the first time WHO officials called for a delay in administering booster shots as Ghebreyesus previously recommended the postponement of boosters until at least the end of September 2021. However, with many nations disregarding this request, the WHO is now calling for nations to pause booster shots until the end of 2021.

Burundi, a poverty-stricken country in Africa, has noted more than 12,000 cases of COVID-19 as of September 1, 2021. However, Burundi accepted its first supply of COVID-19 vaccines only in August 2021. Thus, at this point, a significant portion of the nation remains unvaccinated. These circumstances stand in stark contrast to countries such as Israel that are now offering booster shots to all vaccinated individuals ages 12 and older.

Each booster a nation dispenses comes with opportunity costs. Researchers argue that every booster shot a nation administers constitutes an inoculation that could go toward vaccinating an individual from an underdeveloped nation. These booster shots in wealthier countries ultimately deprive many at-risk populations within low- and middle-income countries of a chance at surviving COVID-19. Without a majority vaccinated population, these nations struggle to thwart the overall spread of the virus in their countries.

The Need for Booster Shots

While Ghebreyesus accepts that higher-risk portions of the population may benefit from booster shots, he believes boosters are unnecessary for low-risk groups. “We do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated,” he said. Furthermore, WHO officials maintain that there is a lack of evidence to suggest that booster shots are beneficial for protecting against COVID-19. Until this proof is available, vaccine doses will likely be more useful if the world prioritizes redirection and distribution of these shots to developing nations.

Compliance for the Moratorium on Boosters

Despite the initial failure of the first moratorium placed on booster shots, WHO officials believe that this time, nations are taking the moratorium more seriously. WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward has stated that several countries are taking this plea into consideration, delaying their distributions of booster shots. Additionally, some vaccine manufacturers are pledging to supply lower- and middle-income countries with vaccines rather than wealthier nations that already have an ample supply.

As of September 1, 2021, about 73% of the global population was not vaccinated. Many of these unprotected individuals come from underdeveloped nations with lacking resources. Meanwhile, several wealthy nations are administering booster shots to healthy individuals. As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to prioritize global vaccine equity as even one nation without adequate protection from COVID-19 means the whole world is without protection.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare successes in BurundiIn Burundi, over 65% of people live in poverty. The country has the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, the presence of disease is widespread and only 32% of children make it through the equivalent of middle school. Despite these statistics, recent healthcare successes in Burundi are creating many improvements for the country.

5 Healthcare Successes in Burundi

  1. USAID providing health services. Burundi’s health systems aren’t adequate for the 11.5 million people living there. Fortunately, outside organizations are supporting the country. USAID has backed efforts in Burundi that assist with child and maternal services, HIV/AIDS, malaria and malnutrition. By providing support for the Government of Burundi’s plan for HIV/AIDS prevention, USAID has also assisted in expanding control for and education about HIV. Besides HIV, there is currently a malaria epidemic in Burundi. Since 2019, there have been six million cases, but USAID has introduced treatment, prevention and testing options to the country, helping to combat malaria and trace the spread of infections. About 56% of children in Burundi live without access to the necessary amount of food, but USAID hopes to curb these numbers. The organization offers supplements and nutrition lessons to pregnant mothers and young children to assist with malnutrition. The services that USAID provides help the Burundi healthcare systems in multiple aspects. They have allowed for improved service delivery, better treatment for childhood diseases and viruses and more accessible medicine and assistance during pregnancy.
  2. A $5 million grant in response to COVID-19 from the International Development Association. On April 14, 2020, this grant was approved by The World Bank and gave Burundi the chance to build up its health services as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Burundi was originally not in a position economically to handle this pandemic. The grant has given the country more access to testing, equipment, facilities and health professionals. Along with this, it has helped to reduce the spread of the virus through strategies that improve communication and tracking within the country.
  3. Improved financial access to healthcare in Burundi. In 2002, Burundi implemented a policy to perform cost recovery and provide financial relief to citizens that can not afford necessary healthcare. This exemption allows more citizens to get proper treatment and not be concerned about being forced further into poverty because of medical bills.
  4. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations was launched at The World Economic Forum in January 2000. This alliance includes the World Health Organization, The Gates Foundation, UNICEF and many similar organizations. It aims to provide more access to new vaccines to children in countries like Burundi. Between 2005 and 2008, the Alliance donated $800 million to 72 underdeveloped countries to help increase vaccinations, fund health systems and provide healthcare services. This assistance created many new healthcare successes in Burundi. For example, Burundi has trained more people in midwifery, meaning there has been an increase in safe, assisted births. The country has received an average of $3.26 million annually from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. Additionally, healthcare workers have received more training and there has been increased coverage of immunizations.
  5. Reduced HIV/AIDS and new health ministries. From 2000 to 2013, HIV infections decreased by 46%. Civil conflict in Burundi between 1993 and 2003 caused the rapid spread of HIV in the country and a fractured health system. The government initially divided the health and HIV/AIDS ministries, causing political turmoil. But then non-governmental organizations stepped in, started HIV-specific clinics and offered incentives to health personnel working with HIV.

What Does This Mean for Poverty in Burundi?

These healthcare successes in Burundi are creating economic, social and physical improvement for the country. Malnutrition, the rate of disease and poverty are all decreasing. These operations expand beyond just healthcare, though. They reach every aspect of living in Burundi. They create opportunities for more children to thrive in school and more people to go to work. Ultimately, these opportunities lead to economic growth and a more sustainable country.

– Delaney Gilmore
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Burundi
Burundi is a landlocked East African country bordering Tanzania and Rwanda. The majority of its population faces extreme poverty, with 65% of Burundians falling below the poverty line. In Bujumbura, the country’s capital, agricultural workers earn an average wage of 3,000 francs ($1.82) per day. In rural areas, the minimum wage is a third of the capital city’s, forcing rural workers to make ends meet on less than a dollar a day. Many Burundians lack access to clean water and basic sanitation and less than 5% have electricity. In addition to a high rate of extreme poverty, political instability and widespread violence have led to an increase in human trafficking in Burundi.

Trafficking in Supply Chains and “Cash Crops”

The Education Policy Data Center found that, as of 2014, 62% of Burundians aged 15-24 never complete primary education. Child labor is common, especially in agriculture. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Government of Burundi found, in a collaborative study, that child labor was commonly used to harvest “cash crops” such as coffee. Forced labor also occurs, sometimes because of human trafficking.

Gold mining is another Burundian industry plagued by human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, children and young adults often fall victim to forced labor in the gold mines surrounding the city of Cibitoke. The U.S. State Department also finds that traffickers try to recruit people they know into forced labor.

Children are the most common victims since they are easier to mislead and exploit for monetary gain. Burundi’s primary catalysts for human trafficking are its major industries. Implementing anti-trafficking protocols within these industries and refusing to buy exports produced using forced labor and trafficking would go a long way toward ending human trafficking in Burundi.

The Impact of Human Trafficking on Burundian Families

Young women and children are especially vulnerable to human trafficking. Many leave their families because of traffickers’ false promises of “good jobs,” which women and children see as their only chance to escape poverty. Human trafficking also causes emotional trauma for families with members who have been trafficked. NGOs working in the area believe that between 500 and 3,000 young women from Burundi became trafficking victims in the Middle East between 2015 and 2016.

OLCT, a Burundian NGO that stops transnational crime, reported that at least 527 girls and women arrived in Middle Eastern countries in 2017 as a result of human trafficking. Additionally, more than 250 girls and women arrived in the Middle East in 2018. According to the chairman of OLCT, Qatar is the most common place internationally trafficked Burundian girls end up in due to preparations for the 2022 World Cup.

Human trafficking in Burundi and the exploitation of young girls for monetary gain is a major problem in Burundi. However, ending human trafficking is possible with the proper prevention programs. Burundians stand to benefit both emotionally and economically from greater support from both the African and international communities in preventing human trafficking and keeping families together.

Ending Human Trafficking in Burundi

In April 2021, the Ugandan police intercepted a human trafficking caravan in transit to another nation. The police saved 29 Burundian girls and arrested and charged five human trafficking racket suspects. According to a Ugandan police spokesperson, the girls’ destination was likely the sex trade. Uganda is a cut-through country for traffickers bringing girls into other countries. Human trafficking in Burundi and Africa as a whole will end only if bordering nations cooperate with each other. Uganda’s rescue of 29 young girls displays what can happen when nations work together.

The Burundi Counter-Trafficking Project

Gaston Sindimwo, the vice president of Burundi as of 2019, says that fighting human trafficking requires universal respect for human rights and the understanding that human trafficking is a global issue. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with the Burundian Government to launch Burundi Counter-Trafficking, a project to strengthen the government’s capacity to fight human trafficking.

The Netherlands has fully funded the $3 million project, which will run until the end of 2022. Caecilia Wijgers, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Burundi as of 2019, stressed the need to protect people suffering exploitation and deception. Funding from the Netherlands has limited the number of trafficking rackets in the past few years and has allowed Burundi to work with its neighbors to stop trafficking throughout the continent.

The Burundi Counter-Trafficking project is helping reduce human trafficking in Burundi. However, much work still lies ahead in order to end the exploitation of Burundians and ensure no more families suffer as a result of human trafficking.

– Curtis McGonigle
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts about the Burundi Refugee CrisisBurundi is a country in East-Central Africa with a population of about 12.2 million. Trying to escape violence in their home country, thousands of Burundians have fled and become refugees. These people seek shelter in several different countries, and as of October 2020, there are more than 150,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, according to Human Rights Watch. The Burundi refugee crisis comes with heartbreaking tragedies. Sadly, Burundian refugees face many obstacles for protection and are often forced to return to Burundi against their will.

Here are five facts about the Burundi refugee crisis.

  1. The Burundi refugee crisis began in 2015. After serving two terms, Burundi’s former president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was expected to step down. When Nkrurnziza refused to do so, civilian protests began and lasted for months. The military responded with violence and targeted civilian killings. Unrest and state-sanctioned human rights violations caused hundreds of thousands of Burundi citizens to seek refuge in surrounding areas. The conflict has killed more than 1,700 people since 2015.
  2. The U.N. Refugee Agency reports that the conflict resulted in more than 333,700 Burundi refugees seeking safety and shelter in other countries. Many of the camps are unable to provide adequate shelter, health services or education. Moreover, many Burundi refugees feel as if the population has nowhere to go.
  3. Tanzania, a country that took in a significant portion of Burundi’s refugees, is no longer a place of refuge. Since 2019, Tanzanian authorities have abused Burundian refugees. They have also forced many refugees to return to Burundi. More than 150,000 Burundians reside in Tanzania, and the Burundians are at risk of suffering the same violations that the population fled from.
  4. Some Burundians feel safe returning to the country following the death of Nkurunziza. Rwanda, in particular, working with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has a program for the repatriation of Burundian refugees. Nearly 1,500 refugees have registered for the program. While many Burundians are excited to return home, a significant portion does not feel safe returning. The political stability of Burundi is still uncertain, especially with Nkurunziza’s passing being so recent.
  5. Often referred to as the “forgotten” refugee crisis, the Burundi refugee crisis is the lowest funded global situation. In 2020, the cause received only 40% of the funds required to offer protection to the refugees. Even as Burundians are beginning to return home, there is still a significant population of vulnerable Burundi refugees who need assistance.

The 2021 Burundi Refugee Response Plan will ensure that Burundi refugees will be safe wherever they choose to reside. The plan advocates for more education and vocational training and incorporates Burundi refugees into local livelihood activities. It also ensures that basic needs, including health services, food and shelter are met in refugee camps.

– Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr