Now is the time to secure peace in Burundi

Given the extraordinary stature and political capability of the peace facilitator, Nelson Mandela, a peace agreement may be reached this year. Hope has been renewed that peace in Burundi is possible. However, if the international community does not act now, the achievement may ring hollow when the long-awaited peace agreement is reached.
Burundi's economy is in shambles after seven years of brutal internecine conflict and crippling sanctions. Offices are thronged daily with people waiting to apply for a few jobs. Although one can argue in favor of the sanctions imposed after the 1996 coup that brought Pierre Buyoya to power, there can be little doubt of their severe impact on the population. The hardship on the people of Burundi has been profound. Many people eat only one meal per day if they are lucky. In some areas, children exist on a diet of manioc leaves.

Bilateral aid to Burundi must be restored. Two sectors of the economy require immediate donor intervention: the mid-level government bureaucracies and the agricultural sector. The internal war and sanctions have decimated the middle class in Burundi; many are government bureaucrats on whom the international community must rely to implement a peace agreement and revitalize the country. Immediate budgetary support with appropriate controls is needed now to prevent a complete collapse of essential government bureaucracies. The country at last report had almost no foreign capital reserves remaining.

Ninety percent of Burundi's population is dependent upon subsistence agriculture for its livelihood. In addition, about 300,000 people have been internally displaced and forced into regroupment camps, many of them recently. To make matters worse, many parts of the country are suffering from a two-year drought. Erosion damage to Burundi's fragile soil is alarming. Excellent development programs for agriculture are ready and waiting to be implemented. Donors need to fund essential activities focused on rebuilding the country's capacity to help itself such as seed quality control programs and livestock restocking. Agricultural operations are greatly hampered by a lack of simple maintenance and spare parts.

Donors should also encourage and assist NGOs to expand humanitarian assistance programs to encompass development activities wherever security permits. The OFDA-funded livelihoods program that encourages the planting of community gardens at feeding centers is an excellent example.

Burundi can be put back on the road to economic recovery. Moderates within the government must show the skeptics and ethnic extremists that there are positive benefits to the peace process, not merely risks. Less than two weeks ago, extremists took to the streets demanding an end to the peace negotiations. A lasting peace is possible, but Burundi must get the assistance it needs now. Otherwise, it may be too late.

In order to prepare Burundi for a possible Arusha peace accord and to reduce the suffering of her people, RI recommends that:


  • Commence bilateral aid to Burundi as quickly as possible. This would include budgetary support with appropriate controls with the understanding that such support can continue only as long as the Government of Burundi is seen as conducting serious negotiations in the peace process.
  • Fund existing relief-to-development programs that will help Burundi help itself. For example, seed quality control programs, small livestock restocking programs, and small business development.
  • Provide funds for national agricultural production facilities to repair machinery, re-equip extension offices, and upgrade training for agronomists.
  • Send experts in public administration to Burundi to assist government bureaucracies in improving operational efficiency and accountability.
  • Encourage NGOs to expand humanitarian operations to include development activities in areas such as training, community development, and conflict prevention.

Government of Burundi
  • Prepare to work with donors on budgetary support through coordinated planning activities.
  • Expand cooperation and planning with NGOs to include reintegration of refugees and dismantling of IDP sites.
  • Allow immediate and complete access to all IDP sites by international observers and humanitarian organizations.
  • Set forth a realistic timetable to dismantle all regroupment camps and be prepared to provide in-kind assistance through the use of government logistical capabilities.

United Nations
  • Release UNDP development funds to support transitional programs.
  • Encourage and assist humanitarian NGOs to plan and implement development

  • Implement humanitarian programs which focus on development.
  • Begin development activities in secure areas.
  • Work proactively with the Government of Burundi in planning relief-to-development activities.

Contact: Steven Smith or Sayre Nyce
(202) 828-0110 or ri@refintl.org

RI Senior Advocate, Steven Smith, is presently in the Great Lakes Region.