‘In 2016, Burundi was ranked the poorest country in the world.’
Top photo credit: Rotaract Genève International
On 16 January, the GCSP hosted Rotaract Genève International for an event on ‘Burundi’s regional and global integration on trade and investment issues.’ The presentation was given by GCSP Executive-in-Residence, Independent Consultant and former Vice-President of Burundi, Dr Gervais Rufyikiri.
Dr Rufyikiri spoke on the challenges and opportunities of regional and international integration of Burundi’s economy. He also shared perspectives on Burundi’s global impact and the impact of foreign investments on the country.
Burundi’s main export is coffee. Worth $44.2 million, it comprises of 27% of Burundi’s export economy. Since 2012, Geneva has been one of many global recipients of Burundi’s coffee exports. Refined petroleum takes up 15% of Burundi’s imports, worth $99 million.
Multinational corporations are coming into Burundi to look at their options for investment. ‘This is also challenging,’ he said, ‘small companies are not competitive and when big multinational corporations come in and overpower, it is a challenge for small domestic enterprises to survive or even emerge.’
Dr Rufyikiri summarized Burundi’s challenges including poor infrastructure, high transport costs, high banking charges, high energy costs and a low-skilled workforce. His conclusion was that many of Burundi’s challenges are directly linked to the political instability of the country.
Since Burundi gained independence in 1962, there has been crisis after crisis, massacres, war, and instability. In 1993, a glimpse of hope, the nation successfully held its first fair, transparent and inclusive elections.
‘When I was Vice President, I contacted many investors for Burundi and they told me Burundi’s issues were lack of energy both in quantity and quality. For an investor to set up a factory, it needs energy.’
However, in 2015, the country took a darker turn with controversial elections. Burundian president, Pierre Nkurunziza, took on a third term, against constitutional compliance. Today, he has managed to amend the Burundian Constitution with a main objective of running for future presidential terms. Dr Rufyikiri commented, ‘leadership effectiveness in African countries is a challenge. How do leaders stay on track and committed to the same goals when there is such a lack of transparency and traces of corruption everywhere?’
Choosing optimism amidst the nation’s setbacks, Dr Rufyikri highlighted current and upcoming trade and investment opportunities in the country. Opportunities are found in real estate and development, public services, culture and tourism, mining of natural resources including nickel, copper, cobalt, gold and mineral fuels, agriculture and agri-business and also manufacturing. This ‘reiterates the importance of investing in infrastructure as well.’
To give an example of how desperately Burundi needs infrastructure investment, he remarked, ‘It is easier to travel from Burundi to Geneva than it is to travel from Burundi to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi’s neighbouring country.’
Burundi is a part of COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa). COMESA was established in 1994, with 20 member states, spanning 400 million people. Its coordination is done through sub-regional organisations. There is huge potential in the COMESA region that Burundi is able to explore by importing and exporting from regional countries, however the current share of Burundi trade in COMESA is low. In his concluding remarks, Dr Rufyikiri indicated that the political instability of Burundi remains the major challenge for full economics integration in regional and sub-regional communities.
Amélie Bultot, President of Rotaract Genève International: ‘It is a great privilege and opportunity to benefit from Dr Rufyikiri’s high-level experience. Our Rotaract and Rotary members here in Geneva demonstrated great interest and concern on Burundi’s political situation and we are very keen on learning more on the challenges Burundi is now facing. Raising awareness is the first key step on finding solutions.’
Anne-Caroline Pissis Martel, Head of the GCSP's Global Fellowship Initiative said, 'I am very pleased to see that Rotaract and the Rotary members appreciated Gervais' contribution. This is also what the GCSP's Global Fellowship Initiative is all about: bringing together high-profile executives, government officials, doctoral researchers and young leaders from various horizons, to share their experience and expertise with a public they don't usually interact with.'
Photo credit: Rotaract Genève International