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Country Reports

Burundi Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Torn apart by ethnic conflict and a civil war that lasted from 1993 to 2006, this small Sub-Saharan nation (population 10 million) remains one of the poorest countries on the African continent. Burundi continues to struggle to resolve its complex socioeconomic and political issues, and the country continues to experience political instability following President Nkuruniziza's controversial inauguration for a third term in August 2015.   

AREAS TO AVOID

A number Western governments advise against all but essential travel to the country due to ongoing political instability and the chance of violent unrest and criminal activity. The highest-risk areas are considered to be Cibitoke and Bubanza provinces in the northwest of the country, as well as anywhere within 1 km (0.6 mi) of the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is a risk of spill-over violence and sporadic cross-border activity by armed opposition groups, smuggling, and other criminal activities.

In Bujumbura, neighborhoods that have experienced violence should be avoided, namely Kanyosha, Musaga, Ngagara, Nyakabiga, Kamenge, and Bujumbura-rural provinces.

SECURITY

Burundi's civil war lasted from 1993 to 2006, with the last rebel group, the National Forces for Liberation (FNL), signing a final ceasefire in 2008. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, the next year the FNL demobilized and became a political party.

Although overt (and often violent) security operations have decreased markedly, tensions remain high following the political violence and instability seen throughout 2015 and 2016, and violent crimes and incidents of targeted political violence continue to occur with some frequency. In April 2015, President Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third presidential term, an act that the opposition considered inconsistent with the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement - a crucial step in the political negotiation that brought an end to the country's civil war - and the constitution. The decision triggered unrest across the country, with protests focused in neighborhoods of the capital Bujumbura. In response, security forces responded with heavy-handed and disproportionate use of force. An attempted coup d'état in May 2015 led by military General Godfroid Niyombare was quickly stopped by security forces after a day of fighting.

Despite protests and boycotts by most opposition candidates, the government pushed through with elections in August 2015, in which Nkruniziza secured a third term. Protests and violent incidents continued throughout the rest of the year, including an attack on two military bases by rebel forces in December 2015, which saw several hours of heavy clashes in which 12 were killed. Security forces responded with search operations across neighborhoods in Bujumbura, during which at least 87 people were killed in confrontations with forces (though by some unofficial counts the number of victims was at least twice this). Clashes, mostly involving exchange of gunfire and grenades, were mostly limited to the Bujumbura neighborhoods of Cibitoke, Mutakura, Musaga, Nyakabiga, Jabe, Ngagara, and Bwiza.

Unrest continued into 2016. The government has strongly rejected United Nations Security Council Resolution 2303, which in July 2016 called for UN police to be deployed to the country to ensure stability. There continue to be sporadic assassinations and violent incidents, while security forces continue to be accused of arbitrary arrests, detentions and disappearances of opposition and perceived opposition supporters. The police have previously used excessive force against demonstrators, including live ammunition and tear gas.

A number of grenade attacks have also occurred since May 2015, mostly within Bujumbura, but also in Ngozi and Kayanza. Most recently, eight were killed in Shinya village Kayanza province on July 19, 2017, by a grenade attack; the identity of the assailants and their motives remain unclear. The attacks appear to have been random, criminal, or politically violated, and do not appear to have targeted foreigners.

TERRORISM

Terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out. The Somalia-based Salafi Jihadist terrorist organization Al-Shabaab has made public threats against Burundi as a result of its support for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Attacks could target places frequented by expatriates and/or foreign travelers.

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS

In 2017, severe political tensions persist. All public gatherings require pre-approval and, due to a heavy security presence, only pro-government marches and protests have been permitted and held since mid-2016. There are reports that participants have been forced to attend. Travelers should avoid all public gatherings, large crowds, or any potential demonstrations; security forces have previously reacted with extreme force.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISKS

Burundi is a landlocked country that lacks access to resources, with an underdeveloped manufacturing and private sector; as a result, more than two-thirds of Burundians live below the poverty line. The country is heavily dependent on multilateral and bilateral foreign aid, which represented 48 percent of the country's national income in 2015. Political turmoil in 2015 slowed down the country's economic activity, which has yet to recover. The deteriorating security and economic situation, in addition to dire food shortages in a number of areas of the country, has led to large numbers of Burundians departing the country; an estimated 395,000 refugees remain in neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and eastern DRC. Ongoing political tensions have been exacerbated by socioeconomic grievances, especially among the country's unemployed youth. 

CRIME

Extremely high levels of poverty and corruption have fueled high crime rates throughout the country. The most common threats from crime are from pretty theft (including pick-pocketing and bag snatching), violent muggings at gun or knife point, armed car hijackings and highway robberies, and home invasions (burglary). If you find yourself the victim of an attempted robbery, do not offer resistance; cooperate with your attacker so as to avoid an escalation of the situation. Weapons are easily accessible across the country; criminals may be armed with AK-47s, grenades, knives, and machetes. It is advisable to maintain a low profile, to keep all valuable objects concealed, and to avoid all gatherings. It is also preferable to avoid any form of travel after sundown; travelers are advised to avoid walking in the streets or using public transport after nightfall, including in Bujumbura. The police force is generally considered corrupt and ineffective in responding to crimes or emergencies; foreigners who are the victim of a serious crime should instead seek consular assistance when appropriate.

NATURAL RISKS

Heavy rains during the country's rainy season (February to May) commonly cause flash floods and may result in hazardous mudslides, damage to infrastructure, and significant disruption to travel in the country.

Bujumbura is located in close proximity to an active fault line; though earthquakes are infrequent, there remains the possibility of a large-magnitude earthquake. Previous regional earthquakes have been felt in the region, though there has been no infrastructure damage or casualties.

TRANSPORTATION

Though national highways are in fairly good condition, most interior roads are in a poor state, often making travel by road extremely dangerous; drivers often have aggressive driving habits, making serious accidents common. Poor vehicle maintenance and driving standards make traveling by public transport (including taxis, mini-buses, and "moto" motorbike-taxis) potentially unsafe.

Road blocks and identification checkpoints are common. There have been increasing reports of robberies at fake police checkpoints. Access to and from Bujumbura is controlled by police at night.

Though all airports are currently open, given recent instability flights could be canceled and airports forced to close on short notice. Since the outburst of violence in December 2015, Kenya Airways, RwandAir, and FlyDubai have canceled their flights to and from Bujumbura.

INFRASTRUCTURE

The country has limited infrastructural development, especially outside of Bujumbura. Prolonged power outages and water shortages are regularly reported in the summer, even in Bujumbura.  

LEGAL

Homosexual acts have been criminalized in the country since 2009; those accused face punishment of a fine and potential prison sentence between three months and two years.

The country enforces severe penalties for drug offenses.

HEALTH 

Prior to departure, travelers should purchase health insurance covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of an urgent health issue. Medical assistance in the country is limited and ambulance services are almost non-existent.

Tap water is not safe to drink and diarrheal diseases - including cholera and typhoid fever - affect locals and travelers alike. It is thus recommended to only drink filtered bottled water, ensure that food has been properly cleaned before eating, and wash hands several times a day.

Furthermore, various mosquito-borne diseases are present:

  • There is a risk of yellow fever transmission throughout the country. A certificate of immunization against yellow fever is mandatory for all travelers to Burundi over one year of age.
  • Malaria is also present throughout the country.  In the first half of 2017, some 4 million cases were reported, including 2000 related deaths. The most heavily impacted regions are in the north and northeast of the country.
  • Dengue fever and chikungunya are also present.

Onchocerciasis (river blindness) is a public health issue in Burundi. It is transmitted by contaminated black flies.

Cases of Rift Valley fever have been reported in the country. Travelers should protect themselves against insect bites and should not consume products from infected animals (e.g. milk, meat).

Animal rabies is an issue in Burundi. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild animals (bites, scratches, licks, etc.). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

There is a risk of bilharziosis in Burundi. Infection occurs when the larvae of a parasite released by freshwater snails penetrate the skin of a person exposed to contaminated water. It is recommended to avoid contact with bodies of freshwater (e.g. lakes, ponds) as parasitic larvae may be present. It is also not advised to walk barefoot outdoors.

There is a significant risk of meningitis as the country is located in the "meningitis belt."

Climate

Burundi has a tropical climate. Temperatures vary depending on elevation. In the lower regions (the Imbo Plain) temperatures can reach 23°C while in higher regions (Mount Heha), they seldom go above 15°C.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +257 Police: 22 22 51 25

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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