Burundi is among the smallest economies in the world, recently ranked by International Monetary Fund as the poorest country in the world. The ongoing political turmoil was sparked a decision of the ruling party in April 2015 to enable the President to seek a third term in office. The alarming violence which followed in the wake of this decision has caught the attention of the international media and civil society.
The civil war of 1993 to 2005 weakened Burundi’s economy, its legal system, and endangered transparency in public affairs This African country is now at crossroads, and seems to be prone to another conflict. Many commentators have been more concerned about the political aspect of the current crisis, ignoring the crucial economic dimension which is central to appreciating the true nature of the conflict.
In fact, corruption which affects many countries in Africa did not spare Burundi. According to the Transparency International Report on Africa, dated December 2015 (PEOPLE and CORRUPTION: Africa survey 2015, page 21) the courts and police in Burundi rank high on the corruption scale with 16 to 30 percent of respondents admitting to having paid bribes to the police
Unfortunately, most of the bribe givers are ordinary people in urban areas who try to get licenses, certificates or seek to resolve land disputes, especially in their struggle to meet their basic necessities.
Another sector wherein corruption is prevalent is the public sector where job opportunities reflect political, rather than competitive, trends. Despite that, in Burundi exists some formal channels of job recruitment, but many workers are still hired based on their political aspirations. In April 2015, the growing number of discontented graduates and students who opposed the government’s way of recruiting, responded to the call of the opposition and civil society to protest the President’s desire to be reelected for a third term.
This political resentment among youth in form of protest has been mainly obvious in the urban areas, especially in the slums of the capital Bujumbura. Youth alienated from the ruling party in Bujumbura took the lead in these demonstrations chanting anti-president slogans. Although it was not like the recent protest in Brazil against Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff over the Petrobas oil company corruption scandal, it still shows how the citizens can challenge the elites’ decisions, asking for the rule of law and transparency.
It is significant to note that the above tendency of recruitment has been endemic to all successive governments in Burundi, which spurred unequal share in public sector between the political clients and non-political partisans.
As stated by Rachel Strohm on 6 February 2012 in his article CORRUPTION NARRATIVES IN BURUNDI: “corruption could delegitimize fragile post –conflict governments and creates grievances that could spark a return to conflict”. For instance, OLUCOME (Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory), a local anti-corruption agency, has expressed a deep concern over the nickel deposit in the Musongati region, alleging the government is granting mining licenses, by way of a non-transparent process, to international companies. In so doing, OLUCOME as well as the media have enhanced the political accountability of the government as well as the public awareness of government mineral policy.
According to a World Bank report from April 2011, the youth population in Burundi which is younger than 15 years, constitutes 39 percent of the population. Thus, this nickel reserve, which comprises 6 percent of the world’s total, ought to be used to tackle growing unemployment and support the government to meet the immense challenges to sustainable development. Clearly, tangible efforts should be made to improve official transparency in this mineral field as well as in public job recruitment, which requires the state to show the openness and allow the media and civil society to inform the general public of what happens within the public sector.
Eventually, the youth will be more concerned with economic issues rather than political disputes. However, the political will and enabling environment are central to redress all these issues which impede this nation nicknamed the Country of Honey and Milk. Both parties responsible for this political situation in Burundi ought to see that dialogue make more sense than violence, and sit around the negotiation table at the upcoming discussions on in Arusha, Tanzania.