Burundi – from prosperity to collapse?


(Posted 11th May 2015)

Airline managers in Burundi are said to be wondering what hit them, considering that a year ago the country was in demand and more and more passengers were streaming to Bujumbura on Kenya Airways, Brussels Airlines, RwandAir and FlyDubai which was the latest entrant into the Burundian aviation market, combining their flights with a stop in Entebbe.

An abrupt change in Visa requirements though brought the trend to a crashing end, as Burundi has relatively few missions abroad where wannabe explorers could have obtained a prior travel permit. With tourism, as a result of political developments over the illegal attempt by the country’s president Nkurunziza to set himself up for another term of office, all but collapsed has even the Burundi National Tourism Office only posted two items over the past weeks, on April 07th and April 23rd, indicative of the comatic state of the industry. Prior posts were from April 02nd, February 06th and January 26th before already returning to last December 16th. In comparison was the one year term of office of the former Director General Carmen Nibigira action packed with several postings a day and active interaction from the country’s tourism fraternity and the growing number of supporters from the region and beyond.

Now, according to reports, has trade also started to suffer and the regular bus connections from neighbouring countries slowed down to a trickle, or none at all crossing into Burundi while the number of trucks ferrying goods into the country has reduced to perhaps a quarter of past activities.

Traders in the region have learned harsh lessons when ferrying goods into South Sudan and got caught up in the upsurge of internal strife, at times seeing their cargos looted and when delivered not paid for. Wary of the developments in Burundi over the past weeks has the trade volume subsequently reduced considerably, lining up Burundians for potential shortages of goods while driving prices up and impacting on the street value of the local currency. More than 50.000 refugees have already fled to neighbouring Congo (over 8.000), Rwanda (over 25.000) and Tanzania (nearly 18.000) and hundreds more are streaming over the open borders every day as the prospect of ethnic violence against them is looming larger and larger. Among the refugees are the former Vice President of the Constitutional Court of Burundi who on arrival in exile was swift to lay the blame squarely on Nkurunziza’s doorstep, claiming death threats and pressure on the court to reverse their informal count of votes against extending the president’s term into an official yes vote after judges and their families were faced with Idi Amin like retributions had the vote gone the way it was supposed to go. A humanitarian crisis is spilling across the borders and global agencies and local emergency services are gearing up to house, feed and medically treat the growing number of refugees entering their respective countries.

Regional heads of state are due to meet later this week to discuss the crisis engulfing one of the EAC member states and feedback from some is such that while Nkurunziza may muscle his way into a third term he might then be treated as an usurper and outcast, leaving his country economically cut off as international sanctions are now also being considered. Watch this space for updates from yet another of the Great Lakes’ region hotspots.

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