The crisis is over: now dig some mines and grow some coffee. That’s the message from Burundi’s government as it seeks to draw a line under three years of deadly political upheaval, touting plans for a mining- and agriculture-led economic resurgence and a vote for a successor to President Pierre Nkurunziza.
More than a quarter of a million refugees may beg to differ. As the tiny East African country tries to entice them home, a United Nations commission has warned government loyalists are still allegedly torturing and killing suspected dissidents, and the mainly exiled opposition says the roots of the unrest that’s claimed in excess of a thousand lives haven’t been addressed.
Portraying Burundi as stable is the government’s attempt to “deflect reports of human-rights abuses” and restore the flow of aid that’s “important to help the economy start running again,” said Richard Moncrieff, a regional project director at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Many refugees are too afraid to return, while the issue of Nkurunziza stepping down hasn’t been fully resolved, he said.
The investment is badly needed in Burundi, which ranks 185th out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index and once depended largely on foreign aid. It emerged from civil war in 2005 only to plunge into turmoil in April 2015 when Nkurunziza sought a third term, which opponents called unconstitutional. Protests were quashed, there was a failed coup and then a deadly clampdown on dissent. The European Union imposed sanctions.
The upheaval, which includes a low-level insurgency and once threatened to draw in African Union peacekeepers, has added to instability in a part of the world that includes the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo. Burundi has East Africa’s smallest economy, with agriculture — mainly tea and coffee — responsible for more than a third of output. More than 3 million people, or about a third of the population, needs aid, according to the UN.
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