“All economic indicators, such as per capita GDP (gross domestic product) which has halved since the war began, show us that Burundi’s economy is in ruins,” says Chamber of Commerce and Industry Secretary General, Cyrille Sigejeje, in the capital Bujumbura.
Gross national product has fallen to $620 million, half the figure for 1991, two years before Hutu rebels took up arms against the Tutsi-led army.
Per capita GDP has slumped from $240 to $110 over the same period in the densely populated country where Hutus make up 85% of the population, Tutsis about 14%.
The war was sparked by the assassination of Burundi’s first Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye, in an attempted military coup on 21 October 1993, an anniversary to be marked on Tuesday with observances in Bujumbura.
Peacekeepers have enjoyed only
With lasting peace still elusive, despite a peace process and a succession of ceasefires, foreign debt is more than twice GNP and according to the World Bank, Burundi is the world’s third poorest country.
“It’s not just the economic indicators that show Burundi is on its knees today. You have only to travel across the country to see the extreme poverty, the pitiful state of the roads, the lack of construction, to get the message,” added Sigejeje.
“If the war continues, this country, which has a rural economy, will not recover,” warned Prime Nyamoya, a former economics professor who is now a banker.
The proportion of people living below the poverty line has soared from 33% before the war to 67%today.
One in six people no longer lives at home: about 800,000 people are refugees abroad, and another 388,000 are internally displaced by the incessant violence.
“There is no trading network any more, no more customers for Burundian companies,” Sigejeje said.
“This means that Burundian industries, which in any case are very new, are now in a state of total lethargy, if not closed down altogether,” Nyamoya said.
“There is no trading network any more, no more customers for Burundian companies”
“And public finances are in an equally lamentable condition,” he added.
Worst hit is the coffee sector, which traditionally accounts for 85% of the country’s exports.
In 2002, output was 36,000 tonnes, while this year it was just 7000, according to the Coffee Bureau.
“The biggest consequence of this is that Burundi can no longer pay its civil servants for the first time in its history,” Sigejeje said.
AIDS has also struck a blow to the economy, with the official rate of rural HIV prevalence increasing from 2% in 1993 to more than 7% in 2002.
“This is all the more alarming given that 91% of the population live in rural areas where there are no campaigns against AIDS and where war has increased promiscuity, poverty and prostitution,” one local aid worker said.