A vision of a better future for Burundi
As in much of the developing world, crushing regulatory requirements in the east-central African country of Burundi have made it difficult or even impossible for entrepreneurs to formally register their business. Failing to register marks these individuals and their enterprises as part of the “informal market,” a legal twilight zone introducing numerous obstacles and difficulties for aspiring business owners. Banks refuse to offer financing or credit for these operations, and business people in the informal economy face a constant risk of harassment, property destruction, and even imprisonment by the authorities.
Burundians live in the world's poorest country, though, with GDP per capita of US$250. With business registration costing 40,000 Burundian Francs (about US$20), and requiring more than a dozen pieces of paperwork, most were left without any other options.
Papa Coriandre is one such entrepreneur. He earned his distinctive nickname for his love of the key ingredient in his recipes—coriander, also known as cilantro—and his deep relationships with local farmers of the herb. Papa Coriandre’s original and most well-known product is a delicious beverage made with ginger, honey, and, of course, coriander. While his journey toward building a thriving business has been far from easy, thanks to his own dedication and perseverance—and a crucial policy change—things are looking up.
Papa Coriandre saw the need for jobs in his community and knew he had a solution.
“I wanted to be prosperous. So I set up a business to create jobs for myself and for others,” Papa Coriandre said.
He sold his signature juice where he could, in markets and pop-up stands. He hired a handful of employees from his neighborhood to help with the production. He hoped to expand his operation and eventually hire more of his neighbors. Papa Coriandre and his wife, affectionately known as “Mama Coriandre,” worked together to get the business off the ground. He quickly found that more people wanted to work for him than he could hire.
Unfortunately, not everyone was so excited about the coriander-based enterprise. Because Papa Coriandre was unable to pay the exorbitant fees or efficiently complete the mountain of paperwork, police impounded the equipment he needed to produce his goods and dumped his coriander juice on the ground. Merchants refused to sell his products as they could be punished for selling illegally. Papa Coriandre and his wife even ended up in jail for a short time. Not one to give up under even such adversity, however, he kept working to make his dream a reality.
Though he didn’t know it when he first started his business, Papa Coriandre had an ally. Centre for Development and Enterprise Great Lakes—also known simply as “CDE”—was on a mission to help entrepreneurs like him. The small Bujumbura-based free-market think tank knew that for Burundians to escape poverty, they first had to have the burden of restrictive laws and overbearing bureaucracy removed. CDE’s reform campaign, titled “Birashoboka” (“It is possible” in Kirundi), took aim at the very regulations that made it difficult and even impossible for enterprising individuals to participate fully in the legal marketplace.
CDE worked closely with entrepreneurs to identify the most burdensome requirements—and with lawmakers to identify a path toward reform. They also made frequent media appearances to explain the need for greater economic freedom. In 2021, their work paid off. Government officials made sweeping changes to the regulatory structure in accordance with CDE’s recommendations. The fee to register a business was reduced from 40,000 to 30,000 francs, the number of documents required was slashed from 13 to five, and the interest rate was dropped for borrowers from both banks and microfinance. Entrepreneurs now have the option to register their business online. Small- and medium-size enterprises have been recognized as critical actors in Burundi’s development.
These policy changes are a lifeline for entrepreneurs like Papa Coriandre. Now that he no longer has to worry about police taking his property or throwing him behind bars, his business and dream are thriving. He has successfully branched out into producing new products, including porridge and even alcohol. He recently purchased a new building where his expanding product line is made. While he still has a waiting stack of job applications on his desk, his workforce has exploded. He’s gone from two employees to 139, and from 21 customers to nearly 3,000. Thanks to the tireless efforts of CDE, Papa Coriandre is no longer weighed down by burdensome policies.