Report 185 / Africa

Burundi: A Deepening Corruption Crisis

Despite the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, Burundi is facing a deepening corruption crisis that jeopardises prospects for lasting peace and stability.

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Executive Summary

Despite the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, Burundi is facing a deepening corruption crisis that threatens to jeopardise a peace that is based on development and economic growth bolstered by the state and driven by foreign investment. The “neopatrimonialist” practices of the party in office since 2005 has relegated Burundi to the lowest governance rankings, reduced its appeal to foreign investors, damaged relations with donors; and contributed to social discontent. More worrying still, neopatrimonialism is undermining the credibility of post-conflict institutions, relations between former Tutsi and new Hutu elites and cohesion within the ruling party, whose leaders are regularly involved in corruption scandals. In order to improve public governance, the Burundian authorities should “walk the talk” and take bold steps to curtail corruption. Civil society should actively pursue its watchdog role and organise mass mobilisation against corruption and donors should prioritise good governance.

Since Burundi became a republic in 1966, state capture, mostly by the Tutsi elite, was at the centre of politics, and the unfair wealth distribution fuelled conflict. While the 1993-2003 civil war has not threatened the Tutsi political and economic domination, it has increased corruption and favoured the rise of an ethnically diverse oligarchy.

When the CNDD-FDD (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie) rebellion came to power in 2005, it intended not only to transfer political power from the Tutsi to the Hutu but also to improve governance. The new authorities pledged to fight corruption and created state structures to this effect. However, the first corruption scandals involving the CNDD-FDD dignitaries and state officials watered down the hope of a more equitable wealth distribution.

In addition to the politicisation of the civil service, the ruling party captured the public sector and its resources. It is coveting the private sector by trying to extend its control over the banking sector. It is also interfering in privatisation processes, thwarting efforts to improve the business climate. In such a small economy, where the state maintains a prominent role, the monopolisation of public and private resources risks derailing the peacebuilding process.

The president took the lead in the fight against corruption to improve Burundi’s declining image and address the impact of this pervasive corruption on foreign aid – which amounts to half of the state budget. He launched a “zero tolerance” campaign and designed a national strategy for good governance. However, as the core problem has not been correctly identified, this approach is doomed to fail. The solution is not to “get the talk right”, to “get the institutions right” and to “get the legal framework right”; it is to change the power relations that undermine good governance.

The national strategy for good governance includes all the necessary technical ingredients to fight corruption: improved legal framework, citizens’ access to information, independent monitoring and regulatory organisations, depoliticised civil service managers, transparent tendering processes and public servants recruitments, and reform of the natural resources sector.

What is missing is a clear political agenda. Civil society organisations should create a mass movement against corruption through the establishment of an anti-corruption forum gathering the private sector, rural organisations and universities. They should also conduct independent citizens’ surveys and assessments and scrutinise the government’s anti-corruption performance. Donors should prioritise the fight against corruption and reconsider their engagement if governance does not improve. Now that the anti-corruption agenda has become a public policy through the national strategy for good governance, it is up to civil society and donors to create the conditions for its implementation.

Bujumbura/Nairobi/Brussels, 21 March 2012

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