Evariste Ndayishimiye Needs a Development Strategy and Robust Capacity to Achieve his Vision of a Prosperous Burundi

By David Himbara
Burundi faces numerous challenges, not least, poverty. With a GDP per capita income of US$275, Burundi is the poorest country in the world. Currently, only 360,000 or 3% of Burundi’s 12 million are not poor – they live on more than US$5.50 a day. Burundi is not preordained to remain poor, however. On the contrary, Burundi can and should map a different future free from poverty. Under the new leadership, Burundi needs a development strategy designed to help provide the basis for realizing improved human development, improved governance, increased economic growth and employment, and sustained poverty reduction.

Burundi can follow the examples of countries with no mineral wealth that transformed themselves into economic success stories. A good example is Costa Rica, a small country of 5 million people. Over the past 25 years, Costa Rica transformed itself from a poor nation into an upper-middle-income country with a GDP per capita of US$12,076.8. This growth resulted from an outward-oriented strategy, based on human development, the openness to foreign investment and promotion of forest and biodiversity conservation, and international tourism. Costa Rica is the only tropical country in the world to have reversed deforestation.

The President of Burundi has successfully ended Burundi’s global and regional isolation

In power since since June 2020, President Evariste Ndayishimiye has made progress in ending Burundi’s isolation. For example, he succeeded in getting the European Union to lift its financial sanctions on Burundi. President Ndayishimiye devoted a two-day visit to Kenya, the region’s main economic power, which took over the East African Community’s (EAC) rotating presidency at the beginning of the year. In addition to opening up new economic opportunities for his Burundian counterpart, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is also playing a role in facilitating the country’s return to the regional scene. Similarly, the Burundian head of state has actively engaged his Ugandan and Tanzanian counterparts in facilitating Burundi’s return to the EAC’s economic and political agenda.

The Burundian President needs a development strategy and a skilled team in his office to help him to implement it

No leader can transform a country on his own. Exceptional leaders have the ability to look into their country’s future and make clear and concrete goals that will benefit their citizens. Such leaders are confident and optimistic, inspiring enthusiasm in those around them. Equally important, successful leadership is built on the people around the head of state and how they mobilize and engage national stakeholders. Team building is therefore fundamental to leading a country. That is why President Ndayishimiye needs in his office a Strategy and Policy Unit whose purpose is to provide him with in-depth strategy advice and policy analysis on his key priorities. The Strategy Unit and Policy Unit would look ahead at the way policy would be robustly implemented, and the new challenges and new ideas to address the difficulties met along the way. The Strategy and Policy Unit would have four primary roles:

  1. Carrying out strategy reviews and providing policy advice in accordance with the President’s policy priorities.
  2. Supporting government ministries, departments and agencies in developing effective strategies and policies, and helping them build their strategic capability.
  3. Conducting occasional strategic audits, and identifying key challenges for the Burundian government.
  4. Assisting in improving the ease of doing business. Burundi’s business environment is ranked 166th out of 190 countries. Burundi cannot create prosperity with such poor business environment.

The financial resources to build robust strategic capacity in countries such as Burundi exist

All major bilateral and multilateral institutions provide grants for capacity building in countries such as Burundi that are embarking on their development agenda. The African Development Bank consistently supports such efforts. The important thing for Burundi is to map its economic development strategy and seek support to build its strategic capacity. In countries such Burundi emerging out of conflict, international technical teams are temporarily brought in and twinned with the national experts for two years. Once the national experts gain strategic skills and confidence, the international personnel withdraw. The hands-on method of transferring strategic skills, knowledge, and competencies is well-known mechanism that Burundi most certainly needs to quickly build its strategic capacities.

The time for Burundi to embark on its journey to prosperity is now

The time for Burundi to cash its peace dividend, map its way forward into the future, and implement its development strategy with decisive determination is now. From what we have seen so far, President Ndayishimiye has what it takes to take Burundi to the next level towards prosperity. He has taken the initial steps. As the old saying goes, the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects the wind to change, while the realist adjusts the sails. President Evariste Ndayishimiye appears to be a realist adjusting the sails for transporting the Burundi nation to a stable and prosperous future.