With sanctions lifted, Burundi can begin to recover and rebuild.
Burundi’s then-president, Pierre Nkurunziza, attempted to amend the constitution in 2015 in order to grant him a third term. He was met with strong internal and foreign political opposition, including a failed coup attempt.
His regime retaliated with a surge of political violence, persecution, and egregious human rights crimes against both genuine and perceived opponents. Burundi has been thrown into chaos as a result of violent confrontations and political and economic uncertainties.
The perpetrators of the attack were first denied visas by the European Union and the United States. In reaction to Nkurunziza’s harmful activities, broad-based economic sanctions were imposed quickly.
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The European Union, among other things, froze EUR 432 million in funds under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement. Individual nations, like Belgium and the United States, have also halted financial assistance to Burundi.
These moves deprived the government of access to significant financial budgetary help, which previously made up around half of its budget. They also limited Burundi’s ability to access the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
These penalties were harsh for one of the world’s poorest nations. After years of civil conflict and political upheaval, the nation was already suffering from economic recovery.
The restrictions had an impact on regional initiatives in which Burundi was a key role. These included a regional oil pipeline with Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, as well as a Rwandan power expansion program.
With already diminishing foreign direct investment and assistance, the country’s agricultural output fell dramatically.
In 2020, the nation faced a recession. This was due in part to the consequences of COVID-19, but also to the persistent financial stranglehold of sanctions. The economy was thrown into a tailspin. A drop in exports resulted in diminishing foreign cash, resulting in irregular wage payments and increasing food insecurity for government personnel. Economic growth has slowed from 4.2 percent in 2015 to 3.3 percent in 2020.
Following the death of Nkurunziza in June 2020, a chance for change arose. Évariste Ndayishimiye, who had won the presidential election a month before, took the oath of office.
The new president was seen as more pragmatic and less of a hardliner than Nkurunziza, who vowed to remain in power as Burundi’s “Supreme Guide of Patriotism.” The world community regarded Ndayishimiye as a chance to reestablish peaceful ties with the country.
Nkurunziza’s excesses were abandoned by the incoming president. The systematic repression of the opposition, including arrests, assassinations, press censorship, and pervasive egregious human rights abuses, became less visible.
This is not to say that these breaches do not happen; many NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, have documented that executions and torture of civilians suspected of opposing the government continue.
When the US lifted sanctions in November 2021, it cited improved conditions in Burundi as well as Ndayishimiye’s “pursuit of reforms.” The EU, for its part, emphasized Bujumbura’s improvement in human rights protection. The 27-member alliance mentioned this in a statement issued in February 2022.
the Burundian government’s development in terms of human rights, good administration, and the rule of law
It’s a huge step forward for an economy that has been in trouble for a long time. It will offer the chance for the nation to rebuild.
The resumption of fiscal assistance, as well as financial inflows from foreign direct investment or aid support packages, would go a long way toward reviving the economy. Foreign investors are often cautious when it comes to sanctions. The government will also be able to deploy financial help in crucial development sectors such as manufacturing, youth employment, and debt rebalancing.
Burundi has already declared a $400 million assistance arrangement with the United States to boost Ndayishimiye’s development initiatives.
The financial assistance will also aid in the stimulation of agricultural production and local manufacturing output. Burundi’s principal exports are minerals, coffee, and tea, which account for over 80% of total export earnings. Improving the country’s trade and current account balances will be aided by increased output and improved access to inputs.
The increased influx of funds will help reintroduce the nation into regional infrastructure efforts. Given the easing of tensions, particularly with Rwanda, Burundi’s re-admission will enable for work on important initiatives like energy security and fixing power imbalances.
While some opponents claim that not enough change has occurred, it is still important to encourage good behavior. Ndayishimiye’s leadership recognizes the importance of foreign partners in Burundi’s growth. The elimination of sanctions fosters international re-engagement, which may motivate Burundi to implement more reforms.
The country is already recognizing the need for productive discourse, something the international community advocated for before Burundi’s 2015 collapse. Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Albert Shingiro, said in response to the EU’s recent decision:
The removal of sanctions is a success shared by Burundi and the European Union and its member states at the conclusion of a protracted period of open and serious negotiation… distinguished by the two sides’ spirit of openness, compromise, and mutual confidence.
These events suggest a realistic approach to Burundi’s first moves toward democratic change. In the future, the government must institutionalize democratic principles and establish robust institutions to ensure effective governance. Burundians deserve nothing less than constitutionalism, the rule of law, fundamental commitment to human rights values, peace, and prosperity.