Burundi Civil Society, Labor Unions Plan Protests Over Rising Living Costs

(Bloomberg)Burundian civil-society groups and labor unions may hold protests over the increased cost of living in the East African country after water and power prices more than doubled.

A decision will be made “soon” whether to hold demonstrations after a request submitted to the government to revise utility costs was ignored, Piere Nduwayo, spokesman for the Burundi Consumers’ Association, said in an interview yesterday in Bujumbura, the capital.

Energy Minister Moise Bucumi announced last month a progressive increase in water and electricity tariffs beginning from this month to bring them in line with costs in the East African Community and to help finance the construction of hydropower dams. The country plans to boost the number of people who have access to electricity to 12 percent from 2 percent now.

“We are really concerned by this rise in the cost of living, especially the rise of prices of water and electricity,” said Renovat Havyarimana, a spokesman for the Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption and Economic Mismanagement, known by its French acronym, Olucome.

The annual inflation rate almost doubled since the start of the year, rising to 9.1 percent in July from 4.8 percent in January, as food and fuel costs climbed.

Olucome estimates that the tariff increases announced by the Energy Ministry will result in water costs almost quadrupling and power costs more than doubling. The group has urged the government to scale back the price rises to 30 percent.

Police Action

On Sept. 1, police dispersed 10 civil society groups who had gathered in Bujumbura to discuss the planned protests 10 minutes after they began their public meeting.

“We will gather once again to plan our campaign,” Havyarimana said, without disclosing further details about when the group would meet.

Burundi has a $1.3 billion economy and a population of about 8.1 million people. The country, about the size of the U.S. state of Maryland, relies on tea and coffee exports to generate most of its foreign-exchange earnings.


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