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Burundi - Foreign Relations

Burundi's relations with its neighbors have often been affected by security concerns. Hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees have at various times crossed into Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled to neighboring countries during the civil war. Most of them, more than 750,000 since 1993, sought refuge in Tanzania. More than 430,000 remain in camps in Tanzania. Burundi maintains close relations with all neighbors in the Great Lakes region, including Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Burundi is a country entirely dependent on foreign aid. Burundi achieved a reputation for using its foreign assistance wisely and fairly, and by following a relatively pragmatic line in international affairs, it attracted help from various sources. No Burundian Government could hope to survive without the contribution of the industrialized countries and international organizations, which amount to about a third of the gross national product. Income from coffee exports would not suffice even to maintain the Army, let alone the Government and the standard of living to which high government officials had become accustomed to.

With the end of the Cold War, the option of playing East against West no longer existed. The industrialized countries had already adopted at the time the unanimous policy of encouraging democracy in Africa. They could be expected to react with irresistible pressure against any de facto government resulting from a military coup, led or controlled by the authors of the coup. The memory of French, Belgian and Zairian troops intervening in Rwanda to defend Habyarimana's Government was fresh in all minds.

It would have been essential, for any officers planning a coup at that time, to ensure that when they took effective power, it would be with apparent reluctance, as men intent on helping their country out of a crisis for which they had not been responsible. Precedent was at hand. The coup that had overthrown Bagaza had, in fact, been initiated by discontented troops. Precedents, such as that of Haiti, also showed that it was also essential to secure that no person who could claim legitimate democratic authority would manage to get away.

Burundi is a member of various international and regional organizations, including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the African Union, the African Development Bank, COMESA, the free-tariff zone of eastern and southern Africa, and the East Africa Community (EAC).

Burundi was trying to "catch a running train" as it emerged from years of civil conflict and attempted to work with its neighbors in the region. Small numbers of Burundian troops were engaged in the DRC at the start of the 1998 2003 war in pursuit of Burundian rebels, but it was not involved in the wider regional conflict and relations between Burundi and the DRC have since been normalised. As of August 2007 there were estimated to be more than 350,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, although an equal number have returned to Burundi since 2002.

The ruling CNDD-FDD party received monetary and political support from Sudan during Burundi's 1993-2005 civil war. Sudanese support continues, invigorated by a May 2007 visit by Sudanese Head of State Omar al-Bashir to Burundi. Burundi has a small, moderate Muslim minority. This minority is almost entirely located within Bujumbura and is strongly factionalized. The former head of the ruling CNDD-FDD political party, Hussein Radjabu, is a Muslim who has previously made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Radjabu has courted and received monetary support from Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Sudan and Iraq in the past. In April, 2007 Radjabu was arrested and sentenced to 13 years for sedition. Allegedly, Radjabu was recruiting former rebels for the purpose of destabilizing the current government.

Despite being a prisoner, Radjabu maintained influence and some control over his Muslim loyalists. The real extent of Radjabu's resources, authority and potential is unknown, as is his exact disposition with respect to the United States. That said he likely retains some ability to influence the political and religious environment.

Burundi's future lies in regional integration, particularly through its membership in the five-nation East African Community (EAC). While many observers focus on the economic implications of EAC membership, the political and social impacts will be equally important. The increasing prominence of regional issues may dilute the importance of the remaining Hutu-Tutsi divide. EAC members Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania may be far less reluctant to exert their influence if ill-considered GoB political decisions negatively affect outside perceptions of -- and investments into -- the shared region.

Economically, despite Burundi's own lack of natural resources, its proximity to neighboring DRC may well revive its role as a transit state, appealing to EAC businessmen and women hoping to exploit the minerals in that non-EAC state. A U.S. 2009 Treasury Department project to help Burundi's Central Bank establish a financial market conforming to EAC standards is the kind of program that would accelerate Burundi,s lagging integration progress.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2020 15:10:47 ZULU