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

poverty rate in BurundiFrom the civil war that ravaged Burundi between 1993 and 2005 to the political turmoil that erupted in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term, Burundi has consistently battled displacement, violence and neglect that has dramatically increased the number of people living in poverty.

The civil war of 1993 through 2005—an ethnic conflict between Hutu’s and Tutsi’s that resulted in over 300,000 dead and hundreds of thousands more displaced—took a toll on the poverty rate in Burundi, which rose from 48 percent to 68 percent.

In the aftermath, people lacked access to potable water, adequate sanitation and medical aid. The vast majority of Burundian’s were thrust into poverty, battling sickness, hunger and violence.

Still, the country fought to recover. With the Arusha Accords, which ended the conflict and placed a two-term limit on presidential tenures, and an influx of foreign aid, the poverty rate in Burundi began to decline.

Yet, in 2015, as President Pierre Nkurunziza declared he was going to run for an unconstitutional third term, the country again fell into turmoil.

The repercussions have taken a toll on the poverty rate in Burundi—the United Nations Development Programme has estimated it as an astonishing 77.7 percent. What’s more, the country ranks 184 out of 188 countries on the 2016 Human Development Index. All said, Burundi is one of the poorest nations in the world, where access to basic goods and services is increasingly hard to come by.

As Nkurunziza, the Imbonerakure and Security Forces continue to capture, rape, torture and intimidate the people of Burundi, foreign aid is being pulled. The majority of major donors to the country have suspended budgetary assistance for the Burundian government and both the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on many opposition leaders and senior officials.

Even now, the turmoil continues to boil on and people continue to face a precarious future. This has led over 325,000 people to flee the country since 2015, most to neighboring Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This outflux has severely crippled Burundi’s economy. Agriculture, which makes up 40 percent of the country’s GDP and employs over 80 percent of Burundians, is losing the labor necessary for production and distribution. What’s more, private consumption has plummeted as people continue to march across borders away from the atrocities being committed.

As the economy continues to struggle; as violence, displacement and death are an ever-present threat and as foreign aid remains stagnant, precarity is becoming a way of life. The poverty rate in Burundi will continue to rise unless the international community takes a stand. Aid is essential, both monetary and humanitarian, in order to overcome the crises and stem rising poverty. The world sat back passively during the first civil war that tore the country apart. Will it happen again now?

Joseph Dover

Photo: Flickr

Violent protests following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to pursue a third term have left at least 19 dead and pushed over 50,000 out of their homes. With the streets ablaze in Burundi, a landlocked southeastern African country, analysts fear for the region’s economic stability.

A shirtless man, sporting a pink whistle around his neck, screamed at army officials for bulldozing a barricade made of old tires, his French wavering. Mismatched protestors stood behind the man, while police officials slowly closed in on the group, billy-clubs raised.

Days later, tear gas and live ammunition would be used on hundreds of civilians gathered only a kilometer away from Nkurunziza in the country’s capital of Bujumbura.

This political discord follows a decade-long civil war that ended in 2005 with the Arusha Agreement, which set the terms for the presidency. The accord, implemented by the constitution, reads “no one may serve more than two presidential terms.”

Operating on this basis, many Burundians see a third term as an illegal and unjust power grab. For some, however, the issue with Nkurunziza extends beyond these technicalities. For the past five years, the president has muffled the voices of his people – restricting the press and the freedom to protest.

“This present electoral problem is the result of the last five years’ rule of President Nkurunziza,” said Thierry Vircoulon, the project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Though economic growth has remained stable in years past, mostly because of coffee exportation and the mining of nickel, the mass exodus of Burundi citizens could have serious monetary implications. According to Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently more than 20,000 refugees in Rwanda, 10,000 in Tanzania and 5,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We are extremely worried,” he said, speaking in Nairobi.

Rwanda, already a haven for 74,000 refugees from the Congo, has been overwhelmed since mid-April. Though a new Mahama refugee camp is capable of holding 60,000, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees predicts this still won’t be enough.

Sitting slightly above Rwanda and bordering Lake Victoria, Uganda will likely feel the heat of the protests. Exporting large amounts of coffee and scrap metal, Burundi currently stands as Uganda’s biggest trade partner, according to a tax analysis report.

“We are expecting if the situation in Burundi gets worse there could some economic effect on Uganda,” said Nebert Rugadya, a business commentator in Kampala.

The instability in Burundi has had a domino effect – compromising trade, straining health care systems and drying up foreign aid in neighboring nations. According to François Conradie from the African Economic Consultants NKC, tension could also foment civil war in the region of Goma on the Congo-Rwanda border.

“A stable Burundi means a lot for stability in the region,” Rugadya said.

Concerns over an overall reduced quality of life are also surfacing. The country’s 67 percent poverty rate, which has been greatly increased by civil conflict in years past, continues to climb.

– Lauren Stepp

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, US News, VOX, Washington Post
Photo: Flickr