Situated in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, Burundi covers an area of about 28,000 square kilometres. Its population of just over six million is divided into two ethnic groups: the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis, who have nevertheless traditionally held power. Burundi is the most densely populated African country after Rwanda. Its people speak Kinyarundi and French. It is an almost exclusively agricultural country of high plateaus.
Nearly 92% of the labour force is employed in agriculture, especially in growing coffee, tea and cotton. The remaining economic activity is based largely on nickel and phosphate mining. There is virtually no processing industry. Over-development, land fragmentation, deforestation and soil erosion are other problems that seriously threaten agriculture and forestry.
As in most Central African countries, the prevalence of HIV remains very high, especially in Bujumbura. Despite significant progress in education since the country's independence, nearly half of children between seven and 12 years of age do not attend primary school. Most women are illiterate and unable to participate fully in the economic and social development of Burundi society. Health services are inadequate, and there is only one doctor for every 25,000 inhabitants. According to UNICEF, moreover, only 70% of the population has access to potable water, and less than one third has access to electricity.
Burundi became independent from Belgium in 1962. In recent decades, it has experienced significant internal difficulties and fratricidal struggles that have led thousands of Burundis to take refuge in neighbouring countries. The situation has worsened considerably since President Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated on October 21, 1993, and the country is in the throes of an unprecedented political crisis. It is estimated that more than 250,000 Burundis have sought refuge in bordering countries, not including another 100,000 displaced within Burundi.
The Convention on Government of September 1994, which calls for the sharing of power between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis, has been undermined by extremists on both sides. Tutsi militias have expelled Hutus from the mixed neighbourhoods of Bujumbura, the nation's capital. Hutu militias, based in Zaire and supported by the army of the former government of Rwanda, are leading a growing rebellion.
A state of emergency was declared on June 18, 1995, in an attempt to avoid civil war.
Since February 1995, the international community has sought to bring about a settlement of the conflict by focusing its efforts on preventive diplomacy and trying to convince Burundi leaders to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. Canada supports this approach.
All of this upheaval has seriously affected Burundi's economy. Burundi is one of the world's poorest countries, and its leaders are finding it very difficult to get the economy moving again. The present conflict is beginning to have an impact on the Government of Burundi's financial management.
Relations between Canada and Burundi
Canada has maintained diplomatic relations with Burundi since 1969. However, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has been active in Burundi since the country's independence in the early 1960s.
Burundi has an embassy in Ottawa, and Canada has a consulate in Bujumbura, directed by an honorary consul. Canada's High Commissioner in Nairobi, Kenya, is accredited to Burundi.
In February 1995, Mrs. Christine Stewart, Secretary of State (Latin America and Africa), led the Canadian delegation to the Regional Conference on Assistance to Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, in Bujumbura. On Canada's initiative, participants at the conference agreed to lend their unconditional support to Burundi's democratic political forces, to produce a declaration defending the power-sharing agreement, and to support the president's request for a judicial inquiry by the United Nations into the assassination of President Ndadaye.
At the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of La Francophonie in Paris on March 30, 1995, Canada proposed that the organization assume a more active role in preventive diplomacy in Central Africa. Thus, a joint delegation of representatives from the Francophone Ministers' Conference, the International Association of French-Speaking Parliamentarians, the Permanent Council of La Francophonie, and the Cultural and Technical Cooperation Agency visited Burundi from April 12 to 15 to show that francophone countries supported the government's moderate leadership and to condemn the actions of extremists.
Three members of the Canadian Armed Forces were sent to Burundi in March 1995 to give a three-week course on human rights to members of Burundi's armed forces, sponsored by the UN Centre for Human Rights.
In July 1994, to contribute to the search for sustainable solutions to the problems of Burundi and the region, Canada appointed Ambassador Bernard Dussault as special envoy to Central Africa. Mr. Dussault undertook several missions to the governments of the region, the Organization of African Unity, the UN agencies concerned and the governments of donor countries.
Humanitarian and Development Assistance
On September 24, 1990, the Canadian International Development Agency signed a co-operation agreement with Burundi authorities. Under this agreement, Canada made a commitment to provide substantial humanitarian and technical assistance to Burundi, and to work to improve the country's infrastructure. Key areas of co-operation were education, village water supply and energy.
In February 1993, the bilateral aid program in Burundi had to be suspended as a result of budget cuts affecting several CIDA assistance programs. However, the Agency continued to assist Burundi's poorest through its multilateral program. A $500,000 fund was also created in July 1994 to support projects promoting respect for human rights and democratic development in Burundi.
As a result of the current fragile political situation in Burundi, Canada is focusing its efforts on humanitarian assistance and democratic development programs. Since the political crisis erupted in October 1993, CIDA has disbursed over $14 million in humanitarian assistance. These funds were disbursed to international organizations and Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assist the victims of the conflict, particularly abandoned children, and to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons. Canada has also provided emergency humanitarian assistance to supply food and potable water.
CIDA is currently working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Burundi authorities to develop a Canadian intervention strategy to respond to the present crisis. On June 17 and 18 in Geneva, with other agencies from a dozen countries and several international organizations, the Agency will also examine the key components of a possible development assistance program for the short-, medium- and long-term reconstruction of Burundi. The meeting will also allow an examination of possible initiatives to resolve the conflict and to put Burundi on the road to sustainable peace.
A small number of Canadian NGOs and religious organizations have also worked in Burundi since the early 1960s. They specialize mainly in vocational training and assistance to the poorest, and receive support from CIDA.
In late May 1996, there were 87 Canadians registered in Burundi, 75 of them in Bujumbura. This number includes missionaries and employees of NGOs dedicated to humanitarian assistance.
A consular warning is in effect, recommending that Canadians postpone their plans to travel to Burundi. Canadians living in Burundi are being encouraged to leave the country immediately by the safest means.
An emergency radio system is in place at the Canadian consulate in Bujumbura to ensure contact with Canadian nationals in Burundi.
No special program has been developed for Burundi refugees, since international organizations encourage refugees to return to their country instead of settling in a third country. However, the visa department of Canada's High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya, continues to handle the claims of refugees sponsored by private groups.
For more information, please contact:
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Internet address: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca