Burundi eases curbs on foreign currency

Burundi’s falling forex reserves are placing the country in dire straits, needing an urgent reboot of its monetary policy as it also faces high inflation.

This week, the Central Bank rescinded a two-year ban on individual recipients of forex from withdrawing cash in the original currency as part of efforts to “modernise” the country’s foreign policy and allow more flow of forex through private entities.

“The Bank of the Republic of Burundi is lifting, from today, the restrictions on the conditions for the settlement of instant transfers received from abroad, introduced on March 16, 2020,” Dieudonne Murengerantwari, Bank of the Republic of Burundi governor, said on Friday.

Since 2020, Burundi had barred forex bureaus and banks from dishing out foreign currencies to individuals. Those receiving money from abroad were forced to accept local currencies, even when the money had been wired to their foreign currency accounts. The bank now says all forex bureaus can reapply for licences to relaunch operations.

“Approval will be conditional on the signing of an act of commitment to compliance with the regulatory framework of exchange offices,” Murengerantwari said.

The bank announced changes in the wake of a report by the International Monetary Fund indicating that Burundi’s current account deficit is projected to widen this year due to increased imports for fuel, consumer and capital goods.

The high commodity prices have pushed inflation up, which stood at 19.6 percent in August, and compounded the country’s vulnerable external position.

Burundi is expected to continue grappling with the challenges of balancing social and development spending with the need to maintain macroeconomic stability and address debt vulnerabilities.

The IMF recommended a change in the current monetary policy stance while addressing inflationary pressures.

Burundi’s foreign exchange reserves fell to 1.6 months’ worth of imports at the end of July, down from 2.2 months’ worth of imports at the same time last year. IMF attributed this to increased import bill “not matched by capital inflows.”

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Burundi’s falling forex reserves are placing the country in dire straits, needing an urgent reboot of its monetary policy as it also faces high inflation. This week, the Central Bank […]

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Purge keeps fragile peace in Burundi after coup talk

The manner in which Burundian deputies dispatched Alain Guillaume Bunyoni from the premiership on Wednesday was ruthless but not surprising. It was a unanimous 113-0 vote to impeach him and President Evariste Ndayishimiye promptly replaced him with Gervais Ndirakobuca. Power abhors a vacuum.

Ndirakobuca, a lieutenant-general, is a former rebel who fled from school after the assassination of the first democratically elected president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993. He joined a rebel group which morphed into Burundi’s ruling party in 2005, the CNDD-FDD party.

Read: Burundi MPs eject PM in president purge over coup plot

In a fragile country like Burundi, where the military has a finger in nearly every office, Bunyoni’s marked a purging of pro-Nkurunziza people in government.

At least 54 police provincial commissioners were shuffled as the president said he was disappointed with some top government officials “who think they are untouchable.”

As the head of government, the new prime minister announced his Cabinet, naming Martin Niteretse as the Internal Affairs and Public Security minister. All the dropped ministers were allies of Nkurunziza’s regime.

President Ndayishimiye signed a decree appointing Col Sindayihebura Aloys as Chief of the Civil Cabinet, replacing Gen Gabriel Nizigama, also a Nkurunziza appointee.

Breaking the cycle

Sources told The EastAfrican that border guards have been instructed not to let them out of the country, and there has been talk that Bunyoni could be seeking asylum in Tanzania but there has been no word from Dodoma.

It would not be a surprise for Bunyoni to opt to go into exile in Tanzania. The country hosted the peace talks that led to the formation of a government by the late president Pierre Nkurunziza. The latter also happened to be in Arusha in a meeting in 2015, when there was an attempted coup to oust him for refusing to relinquish power after his two terms.

For the sake of stability and to quash any future attempts to destabilise the country, sources now say President Ndayishimiye wants to make an example of Bunyoni and his accomplices by having then charged in court. However by Friday, there had been no such news and the country it was calm.

Fissures had been opening in Burundi’s political sphere when Bunyoni had a public spat with President Evariste Ndayishimiye for weeks over a rumoured coup plot and it didn’t portend well for the newly recovered stability of the country. Burundi is the poster child of the region’s instability with coups being a part of its political fabric and to crush such a danger, President Ndayishimiye needed to be harsh.

Since taking over in June 2020, following the sudden death of Pierre Nkurunziza, President Ndayishimiye’s leadership style was different. The bad apples in the military blamed for the 2015 coup attempt against Nkurunziza’s administration had been purged, and the president had embarked on cleaning up the country’s image locally and abroad, shedding the yoke of sanctions imposed by the European Union, and having an observer mission of the UN in Bujumbura closed permanently, all in one year.

Power grab

But it turns out all was not well in Gitega, when on Wednesday news started filtering through that the bad blood between the president and his PM — who had publicly criticised each other — had boiled over and that a power grab had been in the offing.

Bunyoni, a former police chief had served as minister for Internal Security in Nkurunziza’s government.

He was very influential and was among the strongmen of the system having amassed wealth, running a series of business networks, hence having his finger on the pulse of the country’s economy.

Also read: US sanctions four Burundians blamed for crisis

Fasttrack to 2022, now prime minister but in a new government, he soon was at loggerheads with the president, with what political watchers believe to be a power struggle within the system following changes in policy that limited his influence.

“During Nkurunziza’s regime, powerful officials could do what they wanted, but now the situation has changed, under Ndayishimiye,” said a top government official, who prefers to remain anonymous.

Clean-up campaign

Other sources say the disagreement between the president and the PM started when the president launched a massive ‘‘clean-up’’ campaign in government offices, to stem corruption and targeting tax cheats.

Some of Bunyoni’s businesses were closed, much to his frustration.

Burundi has been facing fuel, cement and sugar shortages for months, and president Ndayishimiye had publicly criticised top government officials of being behind the shortages for their own benefit.

On Wednesday the Trade and Transport minister signed authorisation allowing businesspeople to import maize and wheat flour, cement and sugar.

Analysts believe that the removal of Gen Bunyoni from was one way to unclog blockages.

Burundi’s economy like those in the region was battered by effects of Covid-19, and although the country did not enforce lockdowns, no goods were coming in or getting out of the country.

Read: Burundi allows sugar, cement imports to tame black market

“What we have done is right and we expect the new Cabinet very soon,” Burundi’s opposition leader Agathon Rwasa told The EastAfrican in Bujumbura, commenting on the PM’s ouster and agreeing with the president’s choice of Ndirakobuca.

It was clear that President Ndayishimiye had been waiting for an opportune time to act going by what he said on Wednesday in Gitega prior to the vote to remove Bunyoni.

“You cannot threaten a general with a coup d’état. Let me be clear that there will never be any coup d’état in Burundi again, by God’s grace,” he said.

Irony facing Chair

The president, who is himself ex-military, must have found himself in awkward position, being the current chair of the EAC and expected to douse such fires in other countries and here his backyard was smoldering. Also Burundian soldiers proudly came out of civil unrest at home and deployed as peacekeepers in Somalia and lately DR Congo.

It would therefore be ironic for President Ndayishimiye to fall in a coup while “his troops” are out there, not just keeping for security but also remitting money that keeps the economy running, only for some government officials to destroy it through corruption.

The other simmering issue, going back to the chaos of 2015 is that the notorious ruling party youth wing, imbonerakure, had their wings clipped and influence dimmed by President Ndayishimiye, to stop them being used by some politicians to harass competitors.

The imbonerakure enjoyed free rein under Nkurunziza, beating, harassing, and kidnapping alleged anti-government citizens and even killing some in broad daylight. Not everyone was happy when their influence was taken away and order restored.

Further, the president gave more powers to the judiciary, army and police to arrest, charge and even relieve top corrupt and wayward officials from office, to bring civil sanity.

Judiciary purge

Corrupt judges were relieved of their duties after being accused of extorting money from the public by delaying judgments. No specific cases have been mentioned in public but the decision by the president came after citizen outreach programmes revealed a frustrated public who claimed that they could not get any service without parting with a bribe and that justice was almost a mirage for the poor.

Thirty five 35 magistrates accused of obstruction of justice and corruption were sacked in June as part of the clean-up and there had been disquiet in government circles.

According to the Presidency, President Ndayishimiye feared that corrupt judiciary officials would themselves become a security hazard by delaying judgments or disputes between villagers, especially on land matters.

In Nkurunziza’s day, Burundi was uncivil with corrupt government officials protected and untouchable. Some did not realise Ndayishimiye’s government was different. Bunyoni’s defiance was meant to frustrate the policies of the president’s clean-up, the Presidency charged.

So on Wednesday, deputies did what the president needed to get his work done, and unanimously voted for Ndirakobuca, who until Wednesday, was the minister for Internal Affairs and Public Security.

“The president of the republic proposed Gervais Ndirakobuca to be prime minister and the president has the mandate to choose who he wants to work with,” said Gelase Ndabirabe, Speaker of the Parliament.

“This was a very brave move keeping in mind that the prime minister had influence in the security forces. That is why you saw the shakeup affect many including regional and provincial police commissioners,” said a political analyst in Bujumbura.

SOURCE

The manner in which Burundian deputies dispatched Alain Guillaume Bunyoni from the premiership on Wednesday was ruthless but not surprising. It was a unanimous 113-0 vote to impeach him and […]

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Burundi MPs eject prime minister in president purge over coup plot

Burundi’s parliament on Wednesday approved the appointment of a new prime minister after President Evariste Ndayishimiye warned last week of a possible coup plot against him.

The President sacked his prime minister Alain Guillaume Bunyoni and his cabinet chief General Gabriel Nizigama on a day of high drama in the troubled country.

At a hastily called parliamentary session, lawmakers approved the appointment of Security Minister Gervais Ndirakobuca to replace Bunyoni as prime minister in a unanimous 105-0 vote.

Mr Bunyoni is a former police chief and had been in office as prime minister for two years. He had also served as Minister for Internal Security during president Nkurunziza’s regime.

“The President of the Republic proposed Gervais Ndirakobuca to be the prime minister, and the president has the mandate to choose who he wants to work with,” said Gelase Ndabirabe, the Speaker of Parliament, before lawmakers approved the new prime minister.

Coup plot

Mr Bunyoni’s departure came after President Ndayishimiye, who has been in power for just over two years, had last week warned of a coup plot against him.

“Do you think an army general can be threatened by saying they will make a coup?  Who is that person? Whoever it is should come and in the name of God I will defeat him,” President Ndayishimiye had warned at a meeting of government officials on Friday.

There has been speculation of a possible feud between the Prime Minister and the President due to a power struggle.

Read: Rumours of a coup bedevil Burundi

The fate of Bunyoni, a senior figure in the CNDD-FDD party, the former rebel group that has ruled the country for years, was not immediately known.

Nizigama was replaced by Colonel Aloys Sindayihebura, who until now has been in charge of domestic intelligence within the National Intelligence Service.

Mr Ndayishimiye took power in the troubled nation in June 2020 after his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza died of what the authorities said was heart failure.

His election in May 2020 had offered promise after the chaotic and bloody rule of his predecessor, although the country has failed to improve its dire record on human rights.

Political opponents

Nkurunziza had launched a crackdown on political opponents in 2015 that left 1,200 people dead and made Burundi a global pariah.

The turmoil erupted after Nkurunziza launched a bid for a third term in office, despite concerns over the legality of such a move.

The United States and the European Union had imposed sanctions over the unrest that also sent 400,000 people fleeing the country, with reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, killings and enforced disappearances.

Earlier this year, both resumed aid flows to the landlocked nation of 12 million people after easing the 2015 sanctions.

Civil society groups have returned, the BBC is allowed to broadcast again and the EU — Burundi’s largest foreign donor — has commended efforts to fight corruption.

Read: Burundi’s president in Brussels for EU-AU Summit

New PM Ndirakobuca was sanctioned in 2015 by the US for “silencing those opposed” to Nkurunziza’s third term bid.

Burundi’s history is littered with presidential assassinations, coups, ethnic massacres and a long civil war that ended in 2006 and left some 300,000 dead.

– Additional reporting by The EastAfrican

*Story updated

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Burundi’s parliament on Wednesday approved the appointment of a new prime minister after President Evariste Ndayishimiye warned last week of a possible coup plot against him. The President sacked his […]

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Rumours of a coup bedevil Burundi

Just when it all seemed calm, Burundi’s political tensions have risen again, following suspicions some senior leaders were plotting to oust President Evariste Ndayishimiye.

On Friday last week, President Ndayishimiye, while addressing government officials in the capital Gitega, warned “some individuals” who he did not name are threatening to overthrow his government, just after two years in the office.

“Do you think an army general can be threatened by saying they will make a coup d’état?  Who is that? Whoever it is should come and in the name of God I will defeat him,” Mr Ndayishimiye warned.

The Burundian president expressed his frustration in the country’s political capital after video clips circulated on social media showing the country’s Prime Minister Alain Guillaume Bunyoni lamenting about “individuals who are backbiting” instead of telling things straight away.

Read: Burundi, the poorest country on the planet: What went wrong?

The clips raised concerns of a possible feud between the Prime Minister and the President due to a power struggle even though the two have often appeared in public and the council of ministers meetings together.

“I want to tell those who think they are powerful to be humble…there is one I saw…in Burundi, there will never be any coup d’état again and God is the witness…those who wish bad things for Burundi, they should prepare for defeat,” the Burundian leader and army general warned.

A professor at the University of Bujumbura told The EastAfrican that the tensions between the PM and the President may be because of the policy changes under Gen Ndayishimiye. “There is a struggle inside the system as the president is changing a lot of things like fighting corruption and impunity. Many within are feeling the pinch,” he said on condition of anonymity so he can discuss the topic without fear of reprisals.

President Ndayishimiye, who took over power in June 2020, promised to restore the rule of law, accountability and fight against impunity.  This has resulted to dozens of high profile government officials relieved from their duties for failure to deliver. This push has seen him regularise ties with the West as financial sanctions imposed by the European Union were lifted in February this year.

Read: Burundi wins big as bloc lifts economic sanctions

Burundi had gone through turmoil since it gained its Independence in 1962 with the most recent political crisis dating back in 2015 when protests against the former president Pierre Nkurunziza led to deaths of more than 1,000 people. There was a coup attempt to overthrow Nkurunziza’s government as he attended a summit of the East African Community in Dar es Salaam. The culprits are still serving jail terms.

“A coup d’état at this moment is more difficult but what we need to understand is that there is a crack within the system, and who knows what comes tomorrow? The president is facing a big challenge now,” the professor argued.

Burundi has witnessed three coups, two presidential assassinations, in addition to the failed coup in 2015 that plunged the country into deadly unrest.

SOURCE

Just when it all seemed calm, Burundi’s political tensions have risen again, following suspicions some senior leaders were plotting to oust President Evariste Ndayishimiye. On Friday last week, President Ndayishimiye, while addressing […]

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Joint Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda power project nears completion

The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project (RRFHP), a joint venture by Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi, is 95 percent done, with completion set for November this year.

The 80MW project was started in February 2012 to supply electricity to the three countries by December 2021 but was extended by two years following procurement flaws that increased its cost by over 20 percent.

Read: Rusumo power project delayed by two years

The three governments received $468 million worth of grants and loans from multiple development partners, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank, for the project.

Taking over the one-year rotational chairmanship at the weekend, Tanzania’s Energy minister January Makamba said the project is expected to catalyse development in the three countries.

Each country is expecting 26MW to be added directly to its national grid.

“This project shows the willingness of these countries to use natural resources to bring about the development of their citizens,” said Mr Makamba.

Respective governments expect the project to help plug power supply deficits. Rwanda specifically banks on the project to help reach its 100 per cent electrification target by 2024.

The project is located at the Tanzania-Rwanda border, Rusumo Falls.

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The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project (RRFHP), a joint venture by Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi, is 95 percent done, with completion set for November this year. The 80MW project was […]

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Tanzania invites bids for SGR line to Burundi

Tanzania is inviting bids for the construction of the 367km Uvinza-Gitega line that will extend the Standard Gauge Railway to Burundi.

In an August 12 notice, interested parties have until November 15 to place their bids with the Tanzania Railways Corporation, to design and build the line from Uvinza in western Tanzania to Burundi’s administrative capital of Gitega.

The TRC said funds have already been set aside by both governments for the bilateral project to take off within the 2022/2023 financial year.

“It is intended that part of the proceeds of the funds will be used to cover eligible payments for contracts under the D&B [Design and Build] arrangement,” TRC said in the notice.

The project will involve 282km of the main line and 85km of siding/passing loops. Lot 1 will cover 180km from Uvinza to Malagarasi within Tanzania, and Lot 2 will cover 187km across the border to Musongati and then Gitega.

The project has been in the pipeline since January, when the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on initial cost estimates of $900 million.

The notice said that although the Uvinza-Gitega link project will be supervised jointly with ARTF in Burundi, the TRC will be in charge of all related procurements on behalf of both governments.

Extension

The line will be an extension of Tanzania’s ongoing $7.6 billion SGR project, providing Burundi with a link to the port of Dar es Salaam through the central corridor.

The line is expected to significantly lessen the costs of transporting Burundian goods.

Both countries are set to also benefit from increased cross-border trade via the railway line, and cargo volumes through the port of Dar es Salaam will be boosted.

Negotiations for similar SGR links with Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are ongoing.

At the signing of the agreement, Burundi’s Minister for Works and Infrastructure Deogratius Nsanganiyumwami said the link would allow the country to increase its cargo export volumes through Dar es Salaam to at least three million tonnes of minerals and one million tonnes of other cargo annually.

Burundi currently ships 99.2 percent of its international cargo through the port of Dar es Salaam, and Rwanda ships 86 percent, according to Tanzania Ports Authority figures.

Tanzania’s 1,637km SGR line is being built in phases by contractors from Turkey and China. The first phase from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro (300km) is set to start operating next year following successful test runs.

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Tanzania is inviting bids for the construction of the 367km Uvinza-Gitega line that will extend the Standard Gauge Railway to Burundi. In an August 12 notice, interested parties have until […]

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Burundi secretly sent troops to DR Congo – rights group

Burundi has secretly sent hundreds of troops and members of a youth militia into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo since the end of 2021 to fight an armed rebel group, a Burundian human rights group said Wednesday.

The main target of the operation is the RED-Tabara, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative said, referring to the most active of the rebel groups which is deemed a terrorist organization by the Burundian government.

Burundi has always denied carrying out any secret operations, insisting it has acted only within the framework of joint operations by the East African Community (EAC), African Union or United Nations.

Burundi is part of a regional force agreed by the EAC in June to fight the myriad rebel groups involved in an upsurge of violence in the eastern DRC that has ensnared neighbouring countries.

Read: Why EAC force is yet to deploy to DR Congo

“Several hundred Burundian soldiers and Imbonerakure — more than 1,000 — are believed to have gone to the DRC in successive waves since late 2021,” the BHRI said in a report.

The Imbonerakure are members of the youth league of the ruling CNDD-FDD party of President Evariste Ndayishimiye.

“For more than 10 years, Burundian soldiers and Imbonerakure have periodically sought to hunt down Burundian armed opposition groups in the DRC,” the BHRI said.

“But the current operation is different in scale and duration,” it said, adding that about 700 were estimated to be on DRC soil in the early phase of the deployment in December.

The rights group, which is based abroad, said it collected testimonies from soldiers, relatives and members of the ruling and opposition parties.

It said it was not able to confirm the exact numbers of troops or incursions, although it reported that the UN Group of Experts collected information on 17 incursions in the Uvira region between September last year and this March.

“Some soldiers are ordered to swap their military uniforms for civilian clothes and leave behind possessions that could identify them,” said the BHRI.

The report said those returning have been warned not to talk about their mission, and little or no explanation is given to the families of those who die on the battlefield.

It said some Imbonerakure have become angry about their treatment during the military operation, with some saying they felt they had been deceived or abandoned.

In May, Ndayishimiye said he was ready “to dialogue” with Burundian rebels in DRC, in particular RED-Tabara and the National Forces of Liberation (FNL).

Founded in 2011, RED-Tabara has been accused of a string of attacks in Burundi since 2015. 

In September it claimed responsibility for an attack on the international airport in Bujumbura, the country’s economic capital.

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Burundi has secretly sent hundreds of troops and members of a youth militia into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo since the end of 2021 to fight an armed rebel group, […]

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