On Wednesday May 20, Burundi will put a full stop to 15 years of Pierre Nkurunziza’d tyranny that plunged the country into extreme poverty, high malnutrition and massive unemployment.
Burundi will go to polls on Wednesday to vote for a new leader that will steer Burundi into the uncertain future.
Since Burundi’s independence in 1962, this will be the first peaceful transfer of power, hopefully.
Analysts say there will be a mere change of guards because candidates are an exact replica of Nkurunziza. He ensured that credible presidential aspirants were rejected at nomination stage.
In 2005, when Nkurunziza shot himself to power through the barrel of the gun, nobody expected what they see today.
Nkurunziza has further impoverished Burundi: 75% of the population lives in extreme poverty, compared to 65% when he came to power in 2005. Youth unemployment is 65% and six out of 10 children suffer from malnutrition.
According to Faustin Ndikumana, an independent economic analyst, many sectors of the economy are suffering.
He observes that in the commercial capital Bujumbura, “building materials wholesalers, banks, taxis and other transport vehicles have seen their activities plummet, by more than 80%.”
“Normally, more than 90% of our customers are Congolese businessmen. Today, our rooms are empty,” said Gérard, director of a hotel in Bwiza, a district of Bujumbura.
Used vehicles, motorcycles, spare parts for cars or even mobile phones, which generally come from Uganda, Dubai or China, are also becoming scarce.
“We no longer find accessories for mobile phones,” said a Bujumbura shopkeeper.
OLUCOME, one of the main Burundian anti-corruption organisations says that Nkurunziza’s regime has been placed under sanctions following the violence it continues to inflict on the population.
With all these stringent sanctions, the Burundian franc has fallen, imported products and foreign exchange are scarce and aid to the country has been stopped by donors.
“As far as the economy is concerned, Burundi is still not out of the 2015 crisis, because almost all indicators are in the red, even if we are starting to see a small improvement,” said Gabriel Rufayiri, President of OLUCOME.
In February, the government closed all exchange offices to fight against the depreciation of the Burundian franc (Fbu), pushing many exchange offices underground.
Due to its lack of foreign exchange, Burundi suffers from shortages of fuel, medicines and most imported products.
The Central Bank of Burundi has only two or three weeks of foreign exchange reserves for imports, against three months before the start of the #COVID-19 crisis, according to the World Bank.
“The economic toll of Nkurunziza’s 15 years in power is catastrophic. It has pushed Burundi back on all levels, it completely isolated the country from its traditional donors and even from the countries,” Ndikumana says.
“In reality, Burundi has only continued its slow descent into hell” since 2015, says Ndikumana, stressing “household poverty, inflation affecting basic products, lack of foreign exchange, the desperate situation in the areas more than 80% of the population.”
After two years of deep recession, the economy started to grow again in 2017 and the World Bank forecast growth of 2% this year, still much weaker than most African countries.
Observers also argue that the impact of #COVID-19 pandemic could further strangle Burundi’s economy as the regime has taken no serious preventive measures.
Burundi has only officially reported 27 cases and one death, but tests are very limited, no lockdown measures have been imposed, and the political campaign has been marked by crowded rallies attended by thousands.
There is little hope of recovery before next week’s elections, as weak signs of a recovery in economic life have been wiped out by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The country’s last elections in 2015, which saw President Pierre Nkurunziza run for a highly contested third term, resulted in violence that killed at least 1,700 people, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to sustained bloody repression against the opposition and independent media.