Rebuilding Burundi through cross-border trade

International Alert has helped to establish a national cross-border trade steering committee in Burundi, where ongoing political unrest has severely damaged the economy.

Burundi has lost significant investors and cross-border trade has suffered huge setbacks since electoral violence broke out in April last year, with the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) reporting that the country’s economy has shrunk by 7.2% - a contrast to the 4.7% growth experienced in 2014.

The Government’s focus on restoring national security and stability has meant that existing policies have failed to create opportunities for them to engage with cross-border traders and attempt to revive this sector.

International Alert therefore recently convened a regional cross-border trade conference in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which brought together traders and politicians. It formed part of Alert’s four-year project called Tushiriki wote (Let’s all participate), which aims to build peace through women’s economic empowerment and participation in three countries in the Great Lakes region: DRC, Rwanda and Burundi.

The conference was attended by eight Burundi officials, including representatives from our partners at Association des Femmes Rapatriées du Burundi (AFRABU).

AFRABU Coordinator Marie Concessa Barubike said: “We were grateful for the attendance of the Anti-Corruption Brigade Commissioner General in the conference. The Commissioner General is a critical decision-maker and influential government person on cross-border trade policy in the country. After the conference, we met him and agreed to lobby the Minister of Commerce and set up the national cross-border trade steering committee.

Following the conference, AFRABU held a national advocacy workshop which successfully put in place the national cross-border trade steering committee in Burundi.

The workshop was attended by Honorable Ms. Leóntine Nzeyimana, Minister to the Office of the President for East African Community Affairs: “We, the Government of Burundi, are happy AFRABU is taking the lead in creating a national exchange forum around small scale cross-border trade. We envisage scaling up this forum by including many other stakeholders, civil society and local development partners. We will be supporting the national cross-border trade steering committee recently established to reach their goals.”

The committee is the first large cross-border policy dialogue forum ever established under Burundi’s Ministry of Commerce. It aims to bring together key in-country development partners and donors, as well as various ministries and civil society organisations.

It will advise the government on issues related to cross-border trade for the next two years, with a particular focus on challenges facing women traders. The committee will also offer guidance on appropriate policy formulation and implementation, and advocate how cross-border trade can be a catalyst for enhancing peace, stability, and economic growth in the country and wider region.

Find out more about our work in Burundi.

You can also watch a video exploring the stories and struggles of cross-border traders in DRC here.