Foreign NGOs leave Burundi as ethnicity law takes effect

Saturday January 12 2019

A roadside makeshift bicycle repair garage in the outskirts of Bujumbura.

A roadside makeshift bicycle repair garage in the outskirts of Bujumbura. Article 148 of the Constitution provides for an ethnic representation in public enterprises of 60 per cent for Hutu and 40 per cent for Tutsi. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

The EastAfrican
By The EastAfrican
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Some foreign non-governmental organisations in Burundi recently closed their offices after failing to comply with the country’s laws by the December 31, 2018 deadline.

The Burundi government has demanded, among other things, that NGOs observe ethnic quotas in recruiting staff.

A diplomatic source in Bujumbura told The EastAfrican that some 30 NGOs could leave the country, taking away around $280 million in aid.

Handicap International, which is the latest to opt out of the country, said the requirement was not tenable.

“We have hired Burundians for the past 26 years depending on their skills and experience; we never consider their ethnicity,” said Dominique Delvigne, Handicap International director for the Great Lakes Region.

Handicap has been operating in the areas of health, rehabilitation, education, protection, socio-economic integration since 1992.

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In a statement, Handicap said it had engaged the Burundi government in discussions without success.

In a meeting in December last year, the Ministry of the Interior said the conditions were "non-negotiable" and that if they were not met by December 31, 2018, Handicap would not be allowed to resume its activities.

The organisation says it is committed to the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence, adding: “The obligation to record the ethnic composition of staff and to communicate this information to the authorities constitutes a red line” that it will not cross.

Article 148 of the Constitution provides for an ethnic representation in public enterprises of 60 per cent for Hutu and 40 per cent for Tutsi.

Handicap International said the Constitution only refers to the ethnic quotas in the public sector and not civil society. It cited Article 6 of the Burundian Labour Code, which “ensures equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and work for everyone, without any discrimination.”

But the government insists that all foreign NGO activities should be in compliance with Burundian law.

“The law can’t be changed. The NGOs that are not capable of conforming to the law do not have any place in Burundi,” said Tharcisse Niyongabo, Interior Ministry spokesman.

Last year, the ministry listed 130 foreign NGOs out of which 75 were from the Europe.

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