Situation and cooperation

Woman in the Gitega region, Burundi

The civil war in Burundi resulted in over 300,000 deaths. Some one million people fled abroad or to other parts of Burundi. The country faces enormous challenges reintegrating these people. Returnees are increasing the pressure on the already scarce land resources in a country that is one of the most densely populated in Africa and where the population is growing rapidly (3.13 per cent in 2013).

About 90 per cent of the population works in agriculture or in the informal sector. Since the agricultural sector is not productive enough to ensure food security, many Burundians depend on food aid to get by. Two thirds of the population is considered malnourished or undernourished, 29 per cent of all under-fives are underweight. The 2014 Global Hunger Index puts Burundi last out of 76 countries and describes the levels of hunger as highly alarming.

The likelihood that the country will achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals is limited to just a few areas – for example, primary education, literacy rates among 15- to 24-year-olds and access to drinking water. In other areas (poverty reduction and food, child mortality, maternal health, fighting HIV and AIDS) Burundi has so far failed to make adequate progress.


Major governance deficits can be seen. Many key functions of the state can only be maintained with support from the international community. Administrative capacities are slight. Policies often serve particular interests, and generally speaking are not sufficiently pro-development. Crime, corruption and impunity are widespread, and the judiciary is susceptible to political influence.

There is a deep distrust between the government and the opposition. Building a dialogue is a great challenge. Most of the agreements reached between the government and the opposition in preparation for the elections in 2015 have not been kept. Repression of opposition supporters and human rights activists, and grave abuses of the principles of the rule of law are huge obstacles in the path of democracy for Burundi. The tense security situation has a negative impact on every aspect of society and also makes it difficult to carry out any development cooperation projects.

Notwithstanding these tensions and regardless of the sharp criticism of numerous governments and international organisations, President Nkurunziza ran for election in July 2015 and won a third term with almost 70 per cent of the vote.

Even after the 2015 elections, the opposition is hardly represented in the Parliament or the Senate because many opposition representatives boycotted the elections or are refusing to take up their seats in protest of the elections.

On a positive note, an active civil society has emerged, along with a diverse party political landscape and, until 2014, a marked degree of press freedom compared to the situation in other countries in the region. Since 2014, however, there has been massive government interference once again in the freedom of opinion and association.

The economy

Market in Bujumbura, Burundi

The civil war has set Burundi's economic development back at least 15 years. The high population density, a dearth of mineral resources and the lack of job opportunities outside agriculture all place severe constraints on the country's economic development. Given the current level of development, the only way that any meaningful industrialisation or development of a services sector is conceivable is with a long-term horizon.

Coffee and tea are the principal exports. Consequently, export earnings are heavily dependent on weather conditions and on price fluctuations on world markets. Excessive exploitation of natural resources in the last few decades and the devastating civil war have caused huge environmental degradation.

Prior to the political unrest, the annual growth rate of Burundi's economy had levelled out at about four per cent. At present, the country is on the verge of economic collapse. Government institutions are largely sustained by foreign donors – bilateral and multilateral partners fund about half of the Burundian budget.

Private sector development is hampered by red tape and political obstacles. Potential investors are put off by the political instability, the absence of the rule of law and the corruption. In addition, the country's infrastructure is inadequate, its transport routes are in a bad condition and there is a continuous electricity shortage. However, in the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2015, Burundi has moved up the list slightly and now ranks 152nd out of 189 countries evaluated.

In January 2004, Burundi signed the free trade agreement of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). In mid-2007, the country also joined the East African Community (EAC).

Health and education

Pupils in a primary school in Bujumbura, Burundi

The overall health of the population has worsened considerably as a consequence of the civil war; medical care and access to clean drinking water are severely limited. Child mortality is high and is only slowly falling.

The level of education is very low; over 30 per cent of the population are illiterate. Significant progress has been made in terms of the number of children going to school. After school fees were abolished the school enrolment rate rose from 43 per cent in 2000 to over 90 per cent in 2010. Even if only about two thirds of these children complete their primary schooling, more than 80 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are now able to read and write as a result of the improved enrolment ratio.

Poverty reduction

From 2007 to 2010, the Burundian government implemented the first national Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The follow-up document PSRP II for the period 2012 to 2015 was unveiled in 2012.

The four pillars of the current Poverty Reduction Strategy are:

  • the rule of law, good governance and gender equality
  • sustainable economic growth to create jobs
  • improving access to and quality of basic social services
  • sustainable development and protection of the environment


Farmer in Burundi

Burundian society is still sharply divided. This division is now driven less by ethnicity per se, having become more a matter of social and economic inequality between Hutus and Tutsis. Unlike its neighbour Rwanda, Burundi is pursuing a strict ethnic quota policy. This policy is enshrined in the constitution (for example, 60 per cent Hutus, 40 per cent Tutsis in Parliament) and is regarded by Burundi as the way to achieve national reconciliation.

Overcoming the mutual distrust between the ethnic groups and coming to terms generally with the events of the civil war are especially important for peace in the country. That is why the international community and the Burundian government agreed to set up a truth and reconciliation commission along with the relevant courts. The commission was established in 2014, although without any judicial component.

Priority areas of German cooperation with Burundi

After the civil war ended, Germany resumed and expanded its dialogue with the Burundian government. However, the Burundian government is about to gamble away the trust that the donors have shown in it. At the donor conference in Geneva in 2012, the donors announced that they were willing to increase their development cooperation with Burundi quite significantly. In return the Burundian government promised to respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and to ensure transparent public financial management. Whilst the donor community has kept its promise, the Burundian government has failed to deliver on its pledges and has in fact reversed the country's emerging democratisation and development.

In the most recent agreements reached in 2012 and 2013, Germany committed funds totalling 52.5 million euros to support Burundi. In response to the unfavourable political developments in the country, the government negotiations that had been planned for 2015 have been cancelled until further notice.

The priority area of cooperation is drinking water supply and sanitation. Germany is the largest donor in this sector and is co-chair of the relevant donor forum. Furthermore, in 2014 two new priority areas were agreed: decentralisation and reproductive health.

In the energy sector, Germany is supporting the regional initiative NELSAP. As part of the assistance being provided in this sector, Germany is supporting three hydropower stations on the Congolese-Rwandan border – Ruzizi I, II and III – and also the construction of power lines. The power stations are meant to supply Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with energy. Ruzizi III in particular is meant to help improve power supply in Burundi significantly from 2018 onwards.

Drinking water supply and sanitation

Employee at a pumping station supported by the KfW development bank in the capital of Burundi, Bujumbura

As a result of the civil war, basic services in Burundi have deteriorated significantly. A large proportion of the population has no access to a functioning water system.

There is also no proper sanitation. Only the capital city Bujumbura and Gitega, the second biggest city in Burundi, have municipal utilities for waste water; however, the facilities and capacities are inadequate. About half the population of ten million has no decent sanitation at all.

German development cooperation is helping Burundi to reform the water sector. As well as funding infrastructure, Germany is helping to develop human resources and strengthen technical capacities.

At the regional and local levels the main focus of cooperation is on selected towns in five provinces. The measures include the rehabilitation and needs-based upgrading of water supply systems (water collection and treatment, storage capacities, distribution networks, house connections, standpipes), as well as the provision of sanitation infrastructure. Accompanying measures to raise awareness about hygiene and water use are also being supported. The geographical institute is receiving support to help it improve the way water resources are managed and protected.


Germany is involved in a programme for decentralisation and fostering local economic development in the provinces of Gitega and Mwaro. Experience from this successful project is being used at the national level, including as input for advising the decentralisation ministry. An important milestone in the decentralisation process was reached in spring 2015: Burundi’s Parliament passed a law transferring competencies and resources to Burundi’s 129 local authorities.


Contraception advice in a health centre in Bujumbura, Burundi

The high rate of population growth in Burundi (3.13 per cent in 2013) is a huge challenge for the country’s development. That is why Germany is supporting family planning projects. Other important fields of work are reducing child and maternal mortality, general improvements in the health system and training for workers in the health sector. In addition, Burundi is receiving support with regard to preventing and fighting HIV and AIDS.

BMZ glossary

Close window


Share page