Causes of Poverty in Burundi


With a poverty rate of 64.9 percent and one of the lowest Human Development Indexes (HDI) in the world, Burundi is currently embroiled in a civil war and a serious refugee and migration crisis. Since 2015, over 400,000 refugees have fled due to fear of persecution and poverty in Burundi and traveled to neighboring countries in the region.

Poverty in Burundi stems from the recently escalating political crisis, beginning in October 2015. The country experienced unrest after President Pierre Nkurunziza’s successful re-election, despite it being in violation of the constitution. As a result, extrajudicial arrests, summary executions and arbitrary assets are now becoming widespread.

In recent months, the European Union has renewed sanctions against Burundi by imposing travel bans and asset freezes.

Owing to the poor conditions of healthcare in the country, nearly 53 percent of children under age five suffer from malnourishment and stunted growth.

Consequently, according to the UNDP Development Index 2011, Burundi is ranked 185th out of 187 countries. The country’s Gross National Income (GNI) has nearly halved in the last 20 years. The Burundian economy also remained in jeopardy due to the volatility and instability of the coffee market last year.

Moreover, the agricultural sector and the country’s over-reliance on primary products generates insufficient amounts of income to support the Burundian economy. The weaknesses in trade can be attributed to the undeterred population, low productivity of labor and inadequate infrastructure in the country.

Rural poverty in Burundi is also contributing to the aggravated poverty levels. Nine out of ten people in Burundi live in communities in rural areas, relying primarily only on subsistence and livestock farming.

As high unemployment rates remain the most crucial problem, it must be countered with more active labor participation in the country. Tackling unemployment also begins with more youth participation and integration. This move is being coordinated by an organization called YouthGlobe. The initiative involves NGO Personnel, government officials, entrepreneurs and bankers across the country.

Alleviating poverty in Burundi must be catalyzed by tapping into the economic and financial potential of the economy. As the coffee market is steadily recovering in 2017, coffee productivity and economic yield has been quite strong in recent months. Overseas demand for coffee exports is also rising and prices have risen to over $9 a pound.

The refugee crisis remains a grave issue as over 40,000 individuals are currently residing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), especially in the Lusenda refugee camp. The crisis in Burundi is especially detrimental to young women and children.

The UNHCR is aiming to increase the funding for humanitarian aid as the appeal for $429 million is only 19 percent financed currently. There are dire shortages of food and water, lack of space and shelter and inadequate education and healthcare infrastructure. Furthermore, UNICEF is playing a pivotal role in coordinating and regulating aid efforts in the country by bolstering social security nets through the provision of education, immunization schemes, development aid and primary education.

The Burundi Revenue Authority (OBR) is working on financial solutions to galvanize the economy and alleviate poverty in Burundi in the long run. Tax administration, policymaking and financial realms are some of the central aspects being focused on.

The government must work and coordinate with local NGOs to stimulate development projects in the country. For example, the NGO Speech and Action for the Awakening of Conscience and Mindset Change (PARCEM), is urging the Burundian government to appeal to international donors and increase social expenditure. The European Union remains a very valuable donor for Burundi.

Salesian missionaries are aiding and empowering young women and girls by providing them with vocational education and training and improving their technical skills.

To conclude, poverty reduction in Burundi must revolve around building the resilience of communities and bridging existing gaps in policymaking and social welfare in the country. The implementation of government-led initiatives like Vision 2025, the IFAD Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), is laying down the foundation for alleviating poverty in Burundi.

Given the sheer gamut of the poverty situation in Burundi, mitigation and developmental efforts will be a very gradual process.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr


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