In the last five years, Burundi has ranked among the least free economies in Africa based on the Fraser Institute’s studies in the Economic Freedom of the World report. Burundi’s hostile economic corridor is mainly due to its repressive border protection policies. These policies make cross border trade between Burundians and their counterparts in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo a nightmare.
Apart from the existence of police roadblocks across the borders, the Burundian government has five ministries that regulate trade, with each ministry having nineteen sub-regulatory agencies. These ministries are represented in all nine zones of the cross-border area between Burundi and its neighbors. A research conducted by the Center for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes (CDE Great Lakes) found forty-three physical and non-tariff barriers that mitigate cross-border trade in Burundi. The think tank links these barriers to extreme commerce-related difficulties experienced by traders from Burundians and other African countries along the border.
In response, CDE Great Lakes launched ‘Fungua Njia’ in January 2020, a campaign targeted at reducing the barriers to cross-border trade and increasing market competitiveness. So far, the CDE Great Lakes has intensified media campaigns on the project producing 23 articles and 23 videos that reached more than 70,000 readers and 203,000 views, respectively.
Since the beginning of the project, CDE Great Lakes has influenced Burundi’s border protection policies and in the neighboring DRC. Burundi’s Ministry of Public Security also recently removed physical police barricades on its Gatumba border with the DRC. It was followed by the removal of four police stations along the same border crossing. The CDE Great Lakes links the implementation of both policies to the reduction in the time it now takes for traders to transport goods across along the Gatumba border. There is also a decrease in the reported amount that traders lose in royalties paid to government and security agents on the border.
Eight similar barriers are recently removed from the key border areas of Buganda and Ruhwa, which connects Burundi and Rwanda. More so, the rate of reported incidents of rape and women trafficking incidents along these borders has also significantly reduced. The Fungua Njia campaign influenced the Ministry of Justice in arresting security agents, and local border officials linked such crimes.
The CDE Great Lakes is also successful in influencing the government to create an ad hoc body to oversee the implementation of policies in favor of free and open cross border trade known as the National Committee for the Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers. This policy attitude is replicated in the DRC, where the government has established an agency whose goal is to promote ease of trade between Burundian and Congolese traders.
Indeed, these reforms have had direct consequences on the lives of Burundians involved in cross-border trade. In an official statement, the CDE Great Lakes remarked that “small business owners who do cross-border trade every day between Burundi and the DRC, between Burundi and the other nine cross-border areas, have benefited from our efforts. At the Gatumba border (Burundi-DRC), we impacted more than 5,000 women who use this border to support their families. Across the three borders (Gatumba, Ruhwa, and Buganda), these policies have helped over 37,000 women, many of whom are providers for their families and communities.”