President Evariste Ndayishimiye faces a daunting diplomatic task ahead as he works to mend relations with neighbouring countries and the international community if he is to rescue Burundi’s struggling economy.
The United States and European Union suspended direct aid to Burundi in 2015 when the political crisis erupted after the then president Pierre Nkurunziza vied for another deemed unconstitutional. The US and EU suspended the direct aid citing gross human rights abuses by the security forces against protesters and political opposition opposed to the third term.
More than 50 per cent of Burundi’s budget before 2015 was funded by foreign aid. Currently, the country finances more than 90 per cent of its budget from revenue collected by the taxman.
“We want to see a borderless Africa, we should open the relations and borders because this unites us as Africans. We used to see Burundians travelling to Uganda and Tanzania, we need to promote this. We Africans need to practice Ubuntu and those outside Africa shouldn’t divide us,” he said in his first address to the nation.
“We need to look behind and understand our history in order to know where we are going. I do not want what happened to our leaders from King Mwezi Gisabo to the late Nkurunziza to happen to other Burundians,” he said.
He called upon the East African Community to allow citizens from member states to work and live comfortably within their borders as per the Protocol establishing the Common Market and the Customs Union.
“The same way foreigners live and work safely in Burundi is the same way we are asking for Burundians to be treated outside their country so we call on all Burundians who want to return home to feel free to come back,’’ said the president.
Burundi was hit by political crisis in 2015 that forced thousands to flee the country mainly the opposition members who denounced former president’s move to run for another term in the office.
Efforts have been made by the international community and lately by the East African Community to conduct dialogue with the opposition members to bring an end to the political crisis. However, the regional mediated dialogue failed to bear fruit after the Nkurunziza regime insisted it would not hold dialogue with those that tried to overthrow the government.
A former army Major General, who later became the ruling party’s Secretary General, Ndayishimiye is expected to rule the country until 2027. Burundi’s political space had shrunk under Nkurunziza and the new president on his first day expressed intentions to open up the political space, and justice for all Burundians. “Whether you are a politician or not, you will have a say and a right on the development and leadership of the country,” he pledged.
Like Nkurunziza, President Ndayishimiye is a former Hutu rebel from Burundi’s civil war. He was one of the CNDD-FDD’s main military leaders when the 2003 ceasefire was signed.