Time to lift embargo?

Author:Misser, Francois
Position:Political and economic conditions of Burundi

Since the attack on the Bujumbura airport by Hutu guerillas last January, security in the Burundi capital has improved considerably and all-night curfews, which were imposed in most provinces two years ago, have been reduced from 7pm to midnight. These positive changes can be attributed to the improvement of the political climate since a government of national unity was formed last June, bringing together the mainly Hutu Burundian Democratic Front (BDF) and the mainly Tutsi Union for National Progress (UNP).

Consequently and despite the hardships imposed by the embargo, construction work can be seen all over Bujumbura. Italian construction company Astaldi is building a highway financed by the World Bank between the airport and the affluent suburb of Kiriri. The building of the PTA bank in downtown Bujumbura is almost completed. People who had deserted the Kinama and Kamenge outskirts of Bujumbura during the 1995 urban war between the army and the Hutu rebels are now back, rebuilding their homes.

However, Burundi is still paying the price of years of civil strife. The abandonment of coffee plantations, compounded by excessive rains this year, has had serious effects on crop yield. The 1998 crop is expected to amount to only 16,500 tonnes as opposed to 20,000 tonnes last year. However, director-general of the OCIBU Coffee Board, Barthelemy Niyikiza, predicts that production could rise to 25,000 tonnes in 1999, if peasants get their fertilizers in time. Purchase prices were also recently increased from Bfr350 to 420 ($0.7 to $0.8)/kg to encourage farmers.

Prospects are far better in the tea sector. The 1998 production rose by 71% up to 7,200tonnes. The Teza factory which was destroyed by rebels in July 1996, is now working at 75% of its capacity. And the Office du The du Burundi (OTB), which should record a Bfr400m profit this year, for the first time since 1993, is now looking for funding in order to increase the capacity of other plants. Some donors have already financed fertilizer imports. OTB general manager, Salvator Nibumona expects output to increase steadily to a maximum of 9,650 tonnes in 2002.

The "ndagala" and "sangala" fish from Lake Tanganyika have returned to Bujumbura markets. Earlier the army had banned fishing in an effort to prevent rebel incursions through the lake.

Another indication of the relative improvement was the decision taken last July by Australian company Andover Resources to carry out studies for the development...

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