SEATTLE — Burundi was the site of a brutal civil war from 1993 to 2006. The war was based on the long-standing ethnic divisions between Hutu and Tutsi that also caused a genocide in neighboring Rwanda. As a result of this war, and the refugee crisis and political instability that still exist in Burundi today, infrastructure in Burundi has suffered.
Burundi has limited transportation infrastructure, relying primarily on roads, many of which are in poor condition. Large fuel trucks and the elements both contribute to road erosion, making many roads (especially those in rural areas) difficult and even dangerous to travel.
Burundi has no rail infrastructure and it is landlocked so it does not have any of its own seaports. This limits trade and makes exports more expensive. Burundi conducts most of its trade with the Democratic Republic of Congo, transporting items by boat across Lake Tanganyika. It also uses the port cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Mombasa, Kenya to send and receive imports and exports by sea.
Burundi has one international airport, located in the capital of Bujumbura, along with three other unpaved airports. These limitations on air travel reduce opportunities for tourism, which could benefit Burundi’s economy.
Infrastructure in Burundi is heavily impacted by weather events and natural disasters, such as floods and landslides. In February 2014, severe flooding killed 80 people, left 20,000 people homeless, and damaged crucial roads and highways.
As a result of this disaster, the World Bank agreed to fund the Burundi Infrastructure Resilience Emergency Project. This project had two goals: to build climate-resilient transportation infrastructure and drainage in greater Bujumbura and to strengthen Burundi’s ability to plan for and react to natural disasters.
The project is predicated on the idea that not only are roads key to the economy – for example, coffee is transported on roads and it makes up 50 percent of Burundi’s GNP – but roads also promote peace. Given Burundi’s recent history of conflict, the peace-building capacity of roads is relevant and worth supporting.
Infrastructure in Burundi is intrinsically linked to the economy. Therefore, any plan for economic growth typically impacts infrastructure, and any plan to improve infrastructure typically leads to economic growth.
For example, in 2010 the African Development Bank launched the Infrastructure Action Plan for Burundi, which committed $5.8 billion to connecting Burundi to the rest of the East African economy. The goal of the plan was to pave all roads, add 1000 kilometers of new roads by 2020, and establish a national power grid by 2015 so that 40 percent of the population could have regular access to power by 2030. Not only would this plan drastically improve transportation infrastructure in a country where 90 percent of the population lives in rural areas and has limited access to safe roads, but it is also projected to double Burundi’s GDP growth.
Another plan, the East African Railway Master Plan, aims to connect Burundi with the rest of East Africa via railroad for the first time. The plan proposes refurbishing and repairing railways in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, and then extending them to Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Infrastructure is a priority in Burundi’s goals for the future, put forth in Vision Burundi 2025. This national plan, which serves to help align Burundi with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, has the following objectives:
- The introduction of good governance and the rule of law
- The development of a robust and competitive economy
- The assurance of a better quality of life for Burundians
Since infrastructure promotes peace, economic growth and connects citizens with valuable services such as education and healthcare, infrastructure in Burundi will be key to the nation’s growth moving forward.
– Olivia Bradley