Political unrest in Burundi: What Concern is doing and why

December 11, 2015

Since Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April that he would run for re-election — despite a constitutional two-term limit — there has been widespread civil unrest. Concern has been working in the country since 1997 and is keeping a close eye on the unfolding situation. Meanwhile, critical health, nutrition, and livelihoods programs continue.

Where’s Burundi? How big is it?

Burundi is a landlocked country in East Africa bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country, independent since 1962, is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland but more densely populated with about 10 million people.

What’s happening there now?

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April that he would run for re-election despite a constitutional two-term limit. His decision was upheld by a Constitutional Court amid reports of judges being intimidated. The ruling prompted an outbreak of unrest. In May, opponents attempted a coup. Political tensions and violence have worsened throughout the year, leaving hundreds of people dead or wounded. The president was re-elected in August. The unrest escalated this week after gunmen launched a coordinated attack against military facilities in the capital, Bujumbura.

What’s life like for ordinary people?

Burundi’s economy is based primarily on farming and the cultivation of crops, and it is among the three poorest countries in the world. Although it was not possible to gather data in Burundi for the 2015 Global Hunger Index, in 2014 Burundi was one of two countries with a hunger situation labeled “extremely alarming,” with 67.3 percent of the overall population undernourished. According to UNICEF, 58% of children under five are suffering from malnutrition.

In the current climate of instability, more than 200,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. Many are young; up to 60 percent of the at least 110,000 Burundian refugees who have fled to Tanzania’s refugee camps since April are children under the age of 18.

Beatrice Mukandagano and family

Beatrice Mukandagano, a widow and a beneficiary of Concern’s Graduation program in Kirundo, Burundi, sitting with her four children. With Concern’s assistance, she has built herself a house and bought land to cultivate. She said that before Concern came to her community, she was so poor that she and her children did not even have a place to sleep.

What is Concern doing in and around Burundi?

Despite achieving economic growth of 4% per annum in recent years, Burundi still faces challenges of poverty, inequality and malnutrition. Concern has been working in Burundi since 1997, and our projects continue to run despite the unrest. Concern plans to expand its current work in Kirundo and Cibitoke provinces and extend its reach to two additional provinces. Following an integrated approach to address the root causes of poverty, we target those who do not own land and who depend on irregular sources of income. Our work primarily focuses on livelihoods, health and nutrition. We also focus on disaster risk reduction.

“Concern has taught me how to plan for and meet my needs.”

Beatrice Mukandagano, a mother of five, used to be homeless. Through Concern’s graduation program to support livelihoods, she obtained a home and some goats, and started a business in production and selling of banana wine, or insongo as it is known locally. “Concern has taught me,” Beatrice says, “how to plan for and meet my needs.”

Stay updated on Concern's work