November 5, 2020 Print

The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging lower-income countries in Africa including Burundi. Atlas Network partner, the Centre for Development and Enterprise Great Lakes (CDE) is engaging in discussions with authorities on how to limit the negative impact of public health safety measures on the economy. The CDE is working with healthcare professionals, the private sector, and members of the Burundian Parliament in pursuit of policies that could keep the country safe and prosperous. 

The result of this consultation is the development of the Kanguka campaign, which was launched by the CDE in March 2020. Kanguka is designed to educate consumers, entrepreneurs, and the public on the need to support long-term public health policies that puts fewer constraints on free enterprise and individual freedom. It is also aimed at educating and sensitizing consumers, entrepreneurs, activists, and voters on the vital need to support a long-term public health policy. But in light of the surge in government control of key sectors in the country towards mitigating the virus’ spread, Kanguka has been successful in limiting the role of the state.

In response to the pandemic, the government initiated a committee to steer national response. The group was initially made up of members of the government. The CDE observed that an absence of the private sector and other non-state stakeholders could prevent the committee from making provisions that would be thoroughly considerate of the economy. The CDE reported on why this was a problem. In response,  the government modified committee membership to include the private sector. 

Also, under the lockdown in Burundi, domestic trade has come to a standstill as a result of border closures. Studies done by the CDE revealed the economy would only improve if the government considered re-opening the borders for key commodities that drive the country’s economy, particularly in agriculture, to pass. Following this discovery, the CDE organized debates and put its findings to the policymakers. As a result, the Burundian government has committed to keeping the borders open while it tackles the pandemic. 

Also, cross-border truck drivers in Burundi were affected by the government’s policy of not allowing for broader testing for COVID-19 through private healthcare providers. Before now, only the National Institute of Public Health in the capital, Bujumbura was authorized to test. This resulted in thousands of drivers not knowing their status. Whereas, neighboring Uganda banned Burundian truck drivers from crossing in if they did not have negative COVID-19 certificates. In addition to the testing problem, Burundians truck drivers spent more time and money maneuvering the ban to bring their goods to Uganda. 

To address this, the CDE worked with media organizations in bringing the problem to the attention of the government of Burundi. The media campaign reached at least 200,000 people in Burundi. In another success for the Kanguka campaign, COVID-19 testing is now liberalized in Burundi, and this has allowed more drivers to get tested and be easily allowed into Uganda.