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Hope, Optimism and Belief in a Prosperous Burundi

November 5, 2010

A strong sense of hope, optimism and belief in a future of prosperity for Burundi rang through every meeting, discussion and activity with which visiting World Bank Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili was involved here Friday, her first full working day in Burundi.

" Burundi may have lived through many years of violent conflict, but “après la pluie, le beau temps (after a storm, comes good weather),” said the country’s First Vice President Terrence Sinunguruza. He reiterated several times during his meeting with Ms. Ezekwesili, that his country has turned its back on war and is resolutely committed to building a future of peace. "

Terrence Sinunguruza

Burundi's First Vice President

Presenting the eight pillars of Burundi’s development roadmap - known as Vision 2025 - during a meeting with the cabinet, Burundi’s Second Vice President Gervais Rufvikiri, picked one word to describe what the program represents: “Buhire”, the Kirundi word for “Bright Future”.

“I am profoundly committed to building that future of prosperity for Burundi and I am both hopeful and optimistic about Burundi getting there,” said Mr. Sinunguruza, whom Ms. Ezekwesili met separately ahead of his departure to the inauguration of Tanzania’s re-elected President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

A foreign investor in the mobile phone sector lauded the potential “fruits” Burundi stands to harvest—in increased government revenue, jobs for citizens and profits to the private sector—if the country did a better job of fighting corruption; avoided the distortions that data monitoring for phone companies would bring; and if it lifted regulatory and administrative barriers to connect Burundi to the fiber optics and the roll-out of 3G technology across the country. Burundi is the only country in the East African Community to not yet have this technology.

During the first meeting of the day, Finance Minister Clothilde Nizigama expressed hope that Burundi would benefit from an extension of post-conflict resources from the World Bank, which is due to make a decision by early 2011. If positive, Burundi would continue to receive funding support comparable to the last three years (approximately $251 million through the International Development Association or IDA). Ongoing and planned reforms, argued Ms. Nizigama, would ensure the emergence of a country that looks beyond debt relief with confidence and attracts significantly higher inflows of private capital.

Solutions for development

At a session with civil society, one journalist charged that Burundi was being allowed to degenerate into a “cultural desert”. The journalist said both the talent and the resources contained in the country could stimulate innovation not only in the budding, non-agricultural rural sector, but also in delivering the promise of art and music, and in building a productive media and entertainment industry.

Ms. Ezekwesili applauded the “can overcome” spirit that filled the air at each of her working sessions. She cited the success of post-conflict Mozambique and East Timor, and post-World War II Japan as evidence that rebuilding from conflict works. The Bank’s knowledge products, which offer lessons of what has worked and what has not in other continents, were highlighted as a source of development learning with real benefits as those experienced by China.

Ezekwesili stated her own belief that the dream was within reach for Burundi, but warned that it will take hard work in four strategic areas.

  • The country’s political leadership, its government, private sector, civil society and citizens must offer decisive and purposeful leadership.
  • Second, they must—beginning with the evaluation of Burundi’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the elaboration of its second—ensure a consultative and inclusive method of making and sticking with the right, albeit tough, policy choices.
  • They must build the sound institutions needed to make reforms and development sustainable.
  • And, fourth, they must devote increasingly scarce resources to the right investments (that will yield the most development impact by leveraging other resources).

The World Bank Vice President urged Burundi to aim for and take immediate action to show the kind of early wins that the rest of the world needs to see to be convinced that the government and peoples of Burundi do mean business. She pointed to the need for Burundi to improve its good governance rating; its ranking on Transparency International’s perception of corruption index, and its slipping ranking on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

Private investors, she explained, do not like neighborhoods that are not safe for investment. For Burundi to attract private capital and its agricultural sector to become a “magnet for investors”, the country should take up the offer made by the World Bank to work with it to help it move away from the neighborhood where it currently and persistently finds itself ranked: in “the bottom ten lowest countries in Doing Business and Transparency International reports”.

Ms. Ezekwesili urged action on well-known cases of suspected corruption, some of which are pending prosecution. “You need to send the signal that credible sanctions will be part of the implementation of the ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption campaign your country has embraced,” she said.

Ms. Ezekwesili encouraged action to strengthen security sector reform in ways that consolidate peace and trim the public sector wage bill (now estimated at 15 percent of GDP), freeing up resources for priority investments.

The government of Burundi projects a 10 percent annual growth in agriculture, a sector which is 50 percent of the GDP, 80 percent of export revenue, 90 percent of employment but to which Bujumbura this year is devoting 10 percent of its budget.

Leaders, Ms. Ezekwesili advised, must courageously and persistently do the right thing, including saying no to reckless spending, and leave their decisions up for judgment by history.

Helping countries help themselves

New requests, made at the sessions Friday, for World Bank assistance, read like a litany. They included a call for the Bank to set up a guarantee fund to guarantee access to credit for female entrepreneurs; a special fund to promote agriculture; capacity building for the private sector, civil society and media; and arbitration from the Bank to ensure more cordial relations between the government, the private sector and civil society; etc.

Ezekwesili’s response? “We will see, but…it is not what the World Bank brings that matters. It is what potential it helps you to unlock with the little it brings. There is a lot you can do for yourselves.”

“This is a unique moment of opportunity for your country to set the stage for economic recovery and sustainable development,” Ms. Ezekwesili told her interlocutors just before meeting with World Bank staff and other development partners as night fell over Bujumbura on Friday.