Officially opened in September 1979, the World Bank Country office in Bujumbura has grown from a small office of two rooms in a residential property into a relatively large complex consisting of 26 offices, three meeting rooms and two video conference rooms, in response to an expanding portfolio and increasing number of decentralized staff from headquarters.
The celebrations, which drew a large and diverse crowd, were attended by the country's two Vice Presidents, who expressed sincere thanks on behalf of the Burundian people to Country Director John McIntire and Country Manager Mercy Tembon, who oversaw the event throughout the week of December 7-11. In attendance at the opening ceremony were 10 government ministers, along with heads of development agencies, members of the diplomatic corps, and representatives of the private sector and civil society groups.
The Country Director congratulated the Government of Burundi for the results achieved notably in transitioning from long periods of conflict to normalization by the revival of the economy since 2006 and reconstruction towards sustainable development of the country. He emphasized, however, that the development path is still long, and enormous challenges remain. In order to meet the Millennium Development Goals, efforts need to be made in strengthening institutional capacity, particularly in the public sector for better utilization of resources and effective implementation of the PRSP, improving the business environment, rehabilitating economic and social infrastructure and improving access to social services.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Second Vice President Gabriel Ntisezerana expressed the gratitude of the Burundian people for the Bank's unwavering support to the country, even in those days when conflict raged. He also praised the Bank's policy advice when it comes to making decisions on economic choices, as well as its advocacy role with other development partners. He reiterated the Government of Burundi's appreciation to the Bank for organizing the first Consultative Group meeting characterized by presentations of the government's program for accelerated growth and peace consolidation to donor partners and frank discussions on the way forward in Paris last October.
The main activities marking the anniversary celebrations included two open house days, the exhibition of achievements of projects funded by the World Bank over the last thirty years, and a panel discussion on how the Bank works, its areas of intervention in Burundi, as well as its major accomplishments. The discussion was aired both on radio and television.
Bank Assistance Instrumental in Securing Debt Relief
The anniversary also provided room for a substantive discussion on the way ahead with a forum on climate change, and the national launch of the World Development Report 2009, opened by First Vice President Yves Sahinguvu.
A documentary was prepared and broadcast by the national TV on the Bank's achievements, bringing in voices from beneficiaries around the country and from partners in government, the private sector, civil society groups and donors. Chief among these accomplishments was the successful implementation of a reform agenda thanks to which Burundi achieved the completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative, making it eligible for about US$832 million in debt relief.
A member of the World Bank since 1963, Burundi is a small country landlocked between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania. The country received its first credit from the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) for the financing of port facilities in Bujumbura and the construction of National Highway No.1, section Bujumbura Bugarama in 1957. Since then, the Bank has made available about US$1.5 billion in IDA credits and grants including a US$10 million grant under the Global Food Crisis Response Program.
With one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world at US$110 (2007), the Central African nation faces huge development needs that have been exacerbated by multiple outbreaks of conflict since gaining independence in 1962.
Under the current Country Assistance Strategy covering the mid-2008 to mid-2012 period, World Bank engagement in Burundi pursues two key objectives-to promote sustainable, broad-based economic growth; and to improve access to social services and consolidate social stability. To that end, the Bank's portfolio focuses primarily on infrastructure, urban development, agriculture and rural development, as well as on governance and human development.
The country still faces daunting peace building and development challenges to improve security and governance, rebuild a severely damaged economic structure, stimulate and sustain economic growth and reduce poverty. To achieve these goals Burundi will need the continued support of the international community in the long run.