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Burundi: Proposals for the resumption of bilateral and multilateral co-operation.


Since the suspension of sanctions against Burundi on 23 January 1999, Burundian diplomacy has been directed towards a single objective: the resumption of international co-operation, which was suspended a few weeks before the coup d’état led by Major Buyoya in 1996. Given five years of war, two and a half years of embargo and no international aid, the state coffers are empty and the socio-economic situation is catastrophic. Since June 1998, donors have clearly indicated a desire to support moves to engender greater political dialogue and to finance “extended humanitarian aid”.

The long-term solutions and various interventions proposed by the international community must be conceived within the perspective of a future, more ideal vision of Burundi and not recreated on the basis of a memory of Burundi as it existed prior to the conflict.

 In this spirit, it is important that the international approach based on the three Rs – Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement – do not aim to ‘Reproduce’ pre-war conditions by tackling only the symptoms without a comprehension of why there was a war in the first place.

 It would not be desirable to resume co-operation along the lines of the 1993 model. In any case, this never succeeded in resolving the structural problems of the Burundian economy. Instead, it inadvertently encouraged cronyism and increased dependence on international aid. The resumption of co-operation should be linked not only to political reforms, but also the to the economic reforms that are necessary for the country’s development.

 The main division in Burundian society is to be found between those who hold power and those who are excluded. The replacement of one network of cronies and contacts by another, Tutsi or Hutu, functioning on the same principle of exclusion, will never bring a solution to Burundi’s problems. Burundi will only change if there is growth and a liberalisation of the economy. These should go hand-in-hand with the creation of jobs and opportunities for greater social mobility. The economy can act as a force for change when the decision-makers are so desired, but it can also act in the opposite way and restrict the possibilities of individual advancement.

 A short-term vision of the Burundian conflict will not change the present situation of social injustice. If the principles of equality of opportunity and merit are respected within the socio-economic, military and political domains, the tensions will be relaxed.

 The international approach must not concentrate exclusively on the victims, but also on those responsible for the violence. How can the level of violence be decreased and the chances for a lasting peace increased? How can wealth be produced and distributed in a more equitable manner that will reduce the frustration of those presently excluded? If some kind of precipitately dispossession and redistribution is to be avoided, it seems reasonable to look for a way to create a surplus of wealth so that each may have a share.

Although the framework is fragile, the efforts at national dialogue presently underway in Burundi merit support and a show of solidarity for a population that is among the poorest in the world. How can the peace process be supported without signing over a blank cheque? Who would profit from the chaos that would result from the social explosion if nothing were done? What are the alternatives to considered support for the coalition government that has been in place since June 1998? These are the kind of questions that face potential donors as they consider the case for a resumption of co-operation. This report, prepared by ICG’s Burundi analyst, identifies key issues to be addressed and sets out some concrete proposals aimed at policy makers in donor governments.




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