In the landlocked Central African nation of Burundi, oppressive regulations, complicated bureaucracy, and physical barriers at border crossings forced Burundians desperate for cross-border trade into the informal economy, condemning millions to a life marred by poverty and abuse by border officials. Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes, or CDE Great Lakes, was determined to create conditions for formal, open trade and, in turn, a better life in Burundi.
CDE Great Lakes launched their “Fungua Njia” or “Open Road” campaign in 2019, which has minimized and eliminated fees, slashed the number of regulatory agencies from 19 to 4, reduced required trade and travel documents, and legally recognized over 30,000 female traders, extending protection to them from seizures of goods, sexual harassment, and bribery at the border. These changes have cleared the way for explosive growth in trade that is not only more frequent, but also more affordable and secure. CDE’s work shines light on the power of free enterprise and trade to bring dignity and prosperity to millions of people across Africa’s Great Lakes region.
“It is a great joy and a great honor for our organization, which has just been selected as a finalist for the Templeton Freedom Award thanks to our Fungua Njia project,” said Aimable Manirakiza, director of CDE Great Lakes. “This prestigious recognition motivates us to continue our action against trade barriers and will allow us to broaden our scope of intervention. This recognition also means that our work, which has enabled thousands of cross-border traders to regain their dignity using local solutions, is far from over. We dedicate this important step to the valiant women traders who believed in us by entrusting us with their testimony on sexual harassment, the seizure of their products, the administrative slowness at the border, the very high cost to access travel documents as well as to import and export documents, several non-tariff and physical barriers erected with the aim of robbing small traders, etc! Today, Fungua Njia has changed their lives thanks to a passionate team who took risks to defend the dignity of these women.”
Ranked near the bottom of both the Economic Freedom of the World Index and the Doing Business Index in recent years, Burundi was not a country friendly to entrepreneurs and traders. The government used bureaucratic barriers like complicated paperwork, regulations from 19 agencies, restrictions on foreign investment, and steep fees—in addition to physical barriers like border checkpoints—to discourage international trade. This environment forced many Burundians into the informal economy. From 2018 to 2019, some 95% of trade with the neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo took place through informal trade.
These conditions were a major contributor to Burundi’s widespread poverty. With no legal means of improving their condition, Burundians had no good options. CDE Great Lakes—an Atlas Network partner—recognized this problem and decided to fix it. In 2019, they launched their Fungua Njia campaign to answer anti-trade rhetoric and transform the regulatory environment that harmed entrepreneurs, job creators, and consumers.
CDE Great Lakes knew they would be facing an uphill challenge to overcome the entrenched anti-trade sentiment in Burundi’s government, so their project had to change hearts and minds before it could hope to overhaul policy. They started by conducting research into the benefits Burundi could receive from increased trade. The data this research produced formed the foundation for their efforts to educate and inform lawmakers, stakeholders, and the public.
Backed by rigorous research, CDE Great Lakes moved into the education and mobilization part of their campaign. They worked with local business owners and traders to craft a series of videos and articles that demonstrated how trade restrictions harmed them, the lengths they had to go to meet the government’s requirements, and how loosened restrictions would benefit them and their communities. This storytelling created a personal connection and humanized sometimes abstract policy. CDE Great Lakes also engaged stakeholders from the national, regional, and continental levels to provide real-world examples of successful policy reforms. They met with government officials to address their concerns and promote their vision of a prosperous Burundi open to trade. CDE Great Lakes was also sure to engage both the public and private sectors to get input on how to ensure that the reforms made it easier for women and young people to participate in the revitalized economy.
Ultimately, Fungua Njia was a huge success. CDE Great Lakes’ efforts were so effective that trade has been completely transformed in Burundi. Traders seeking to cross the border can now use a simple, free identification card, eliminating the need to spend 235,000 Burundians francs—about US$120—to obtain a passport. Visa fees for traders crossing the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo were eliminated. Certificate of origin documents, which used to cost 50,000 Burundian francs—about US$25—are now free and accessible right at the border station. The number of agencies involved in regulating trade was slashed from 19 to 4, and the number of documents needed to obtain an import or export certificate went from 17 to 5. Finally, women are now recognized as legitimate traders, allowing 33,000 Burundian women to participate in the formal trade economy.
This incredible transformation effectively allows eleven million Burundians to trade with not only their African neighbors, but also with the rest of the world. The people of Burundi now have the ability to improve their lives, free from bureaucracy, harassment, and the need to bribe border guards. Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes is excited to see more people escape poverty and witness the transformation of Burundi.
About Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes:
The mission of Centre for Development and Enterprises–Great Lakes is to reduce the obstacles to prosperity and opportunity based on the principles of a free society and free market in Burundi, Rwanda, and the DRC.
About Atlas Network:
Atlas Network increases global prosperity by strengthening a network of independent partner organizations that promote individual freedom and are committed to identifying and removing barriers to human flourishing.
About Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award and the additional 2021 finalists:
Awarded since 2004, Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The award annually honors his legacy by identifying and recognizing the most exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise and the public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment via free competition. The award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on December 14 in Miami, Florida, at loanDepot (Miami Marlins) park. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will each receive $20,000 prizes. The finalists for Atlas Network’s 2021 Templeton Freedom Award are:
Centre for Development and Enterprises (Bujumbura, Burundi), for the Fungua Njia (“Open Road”) project;