The Republic of Burundi is a small country in central equitorial Africa facing many challenges including a growing population of individuals with AIDS and an ongoing problem with tribal warfare. With an inflation rate of over 12% and the constant upheaval from internal turbulence, Burundi faces many challenges as it attempts trade with the rest of the world.
Burundi's population was about 6 million people in 2003 (CIA, 2003), with a high death rate due to AIDS and infant mortality. One population factor affecting Burundi's economy is that nearly 50% of the population is 14 years old or under (CIA, 2003). The birth rate is markedly high at nearly 40 per 1,000 population (CIA, 2003). The death rate is just under 18 per 1,000, giving a rapid growth in the number of children. Partly because of AIDS, which over 8% of the adults have, life expectancy is about 43 years (CIA, 2003). About 59% of males over the age of 15 are literate, compared to about 45% of the women (CIA, 2003).
The country is about 38,000 sq km in size, or not quite as big as the state of Maryland. It is landlocked and bordered by Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Much of Burundi is hilly or low mountains, with some plains. The country receives about 150 cm of rain yearly although drought is sometimes a problem (CIA, 2003). Natural resources including some minerals including copper, vanadium, cobalt, copper, and platinum, which has not been mined yet (CIA, 2003).
Burundi does not have easy access to the rest of the world both because of physical barriers and the internal strife that has made the country a dangerous place to visit (CIA, 2003).
This paper will look at the elements of Burundi's economic, political and social history and realities to consider what economic opportunities exist for the country. The information will be gathered from sources that catalog statistics on countries and articles by experts on Burundi. This information will be looked at from a dependency theory framework in an attempt to present the information in an organized way. Dependency theory argues that because of exploitation by outside economies, the economy of the developing country has been negatively affected, hindering growth (Clark, 1998).
One of the outside influences on Burundi has been the tendency toward urbanization without an urban economic base to support it. Positive outside influences such as access to electricity, along with clothing, home appliances and efficient tools have been a draw, but in addition urban life brings negatives such as poor housing and even drug trafficking (Clark, 1998). Burundi, like many third world countries today, is experiencing urbanization without the employment and industrial structures to support the people who move to the larger towns and cities.
Politically, Burundi has experienced great turmoil and continues to face significant challenges in the near future. First governed by Germany and then Belgium after the end of World War I, Burundi became independent in 1962. Since then it has been through multiple forms of government including a monarchy overthrown by a military coup, a military dictatorship, and an ongoing struggle to establish a democracy (Clark, 1998). Throughout this period have been periods of internal warfare between the two major ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu (Rwantabagu, 2001). The country's first elected President was assassinated shortly after he took office in 1992, which plunged the country into yet more ethnic war (CIA, 2003). A transitional government established in 2001 was supposed to lead to a cease-fire between the warring group, but one group refused to honor the agreement, and the country remains in turmoil (CIA, 2003).
A new transitional government, inaugurated on 1 November 2001, was to be the first step toward holding national elections in three years. While the Government of Burundi signed a cease-fire agreement in December 2002 with three of Burundi's four Hutu rebel groups, implementation of the agreement has been problematic and one rebel group refuses to sign on, clouding prospects for a sustainable peace (CIA, 2003).
In the view of some Burundi experts, attempts by foreign nations to help have only made things worse (Rwantabagu, 2001). Some Western countries chose sides in the Burundian conflicts, supporting the Hutu, while some believe the Tutsi sought support from Eastern countries. Other factors include Rwanda becoming an exclusively Hutu country, and other nearby countries including Tanzania and Zaire supported some extremist elements, complicating Burundi's internal problems (Rwantabagu, 2001). The ethnic violence has an historical colonial past, because some Colonial rulers encouraged friction between tribes as a way to divide and weaken them (Rwantabagu, 2001). Some theorists see such a history as creating a country that will have marked difficulty establishing a strong government, which further contributes to an atmosphere where turmoil can prevail (Rwantabagu, 2001).
The warring factions are divided along tribal lines. The Hutu make up about 95% of the population while the Tutsi make up 14%, with small numbers of Pygmies, Europeans and Asians making up the rest of the population (CIA, 2003). Although the Tutsi are a minority they hold an inordinate amount of power in the country, contributing to the friction. Various groups and loose associations all want to gain control of the areas containing the most population and natural resources. Religion is not a source of conflict for this country. 67% are Christian, 10% Muslim, and about 23% keep their tribal religious beliefs (CIA, 2003).
In a society filled with such turmoil, it is to be expected that those who are more vulnerable, the women and children, may suffer more than the adult males who wage the war. But beyond such cultural chaos, the intent if for some degree of equality between the sexes, and both men and women have the right to vote (CIA, 2003).
Burundi is largely an agricultural country at a subsistence level, although only about 30% of the country can be farmed. About 90% of the population lives in this way. They make small use of irrigation. Natural disasters center around the unpredictability of rain, which makes drought, flood and landslide all potential hazards (CIA, 2003). The country has experienced significant erosion of soil because it has been overgrazed, and much of the natural forest has been cut down to be used as fuel (CIA, 2003).
In fact, Burundi has not been able yet to establish a government free of the cultural pressures that keep leading the country into mayhem and bloodshed. Both political leaders and military leaders affiliate themselves with one group or the other. There is currently no realistic expectation that either the leaders or the citizens can set their recent history aside to forge a stronger government (CIA, 2003). Since the newly elected president was assassinated in 1992, ethnic violence has claimed over 200,000 lives. Many more have become refugees either in their own or in neighboring countries. Burundi's military response to this situation led to more difficulties as they attempted to intervene in an ongoing internal problem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The have since called back to deal with rebel uprisings within Burundi (CIA, 2003). All of this could be viewed as an example of the Dependency Model of development, because past events are still having a profound effect on the country. Some theorists see the tribal differences as the inevitable outcome of dividing Africa up based on European politics instead of African realities, thus forcing people who have been long-term enemies to have to live together (Rwantabagu, 2001).
The long-standing ethnic conflict in Burundi has had economic as well as political effects. The country has few opportunities for investment, and when one group holds most of the power, there is little chance for the other group to begin to advance themselves. The Tutsi resist efforts to bring the Hutu in to civil service positions. The Tutsi have acquired the rights to the best residential sections in towns, and government leaders align themselves with groups in order to maintain power and privilege, which leads to wealth. They form alliances in order to shut others out and to maintain the status quo (Rwantabagu, 2001).
Experts in the region suggest that the people of Burundi work with other African countries as well as other countries around the world to find a way to break the cycle of power-grabs, rebellion, and repressive reaction to the rebellions. They note that this will also require functional improvements in the Burundian justice system, which currently does not prosecute some individuals even when they have committed horrific atrocities against other people (Ngaruko & Nkurunziza, 2000).
However, given the last several decades, such a joint effort may be very hard to achieve. Tanzania currently houses 800,000 Burundian refugees. Over 500,000 have been forced from their lands to other places in Burundi. These groups of people no doubt harbor great anger and resentment against the opposing group of people. We can see from the situation in the Middle East that the longer this situation persists, the more such anger…