Britain last year gave £13.7m – representing 3.6% of all aid – to the east African country, focusing mainly on education, health, access to justice, and regional economic integration. The decision to axe bilateral aid to Burundi follows a bilateral aid review begun last year by Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary.
As part of the review announced in March, DfID decided to reduce the number of bilateral aid programmes from 43 to 27. Burundi was dropped, even though DfID said it had « a compelling case for aid ». In 2005, the country emerged from a 12-year civil war, fought on ethnic lines, that killed 300,000 people. The conflict left the country devastated, with the lowest recorded GDP per capita in the world, at $150 in 2008. Burundi ranks 166th of 169 countries in the UN’s human development index. With 81% of the population living below the poverty line, it is unlikely to meet most millennium development goal targets, not least those on poverty, maternal and under-five mortality, and deforestation. Recent attacks, including the massacre of 36 people at a bar near the capital, Bujumbura, have fuelled fears of a return to civil war.
DfID had doubts about bilateral aid to Burundi in 2009, when a director said the programme was « structurally inefficient, with a small spend, overly-wide scope, and a staff-to-spend ratio which does not reflect economies of scale ». DfID said in its bilateral aid review of Burundi that a « large scale-up would have been required to show a significant impact and therefore demonstrate value for money. Achieving this in the short term would have been difficult given capacity constraints in country ».
Although its bilateral programme will close next year, DfID said it would continue to support Burundi’s integration into the east African community. This will be done through TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), an initiative created by DfID with joint funding from Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. The scheme aims to reduce transport times and costs, eliminate trade barriers, and integrate small markets.
DfID said TMEA’s total projected funding for 2011-15 would be £193.8m. Of this, spending in Burundi is expected to be £24.8m. DfID also said other donors will take over bilateral programmes it has been funding, adding that the cost of the office in Burundi is too high for the size of the programme.
However, a House of Commons International Development Committee report on Burundi took issue with DfID on all three points. Noting that the UK had bilateral programmes with all the countries in the eastern Africa and great lakes region – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan – MPs said a decision to discontinue bilateral aid to just one of the seven not only sends the wrong signals to that country, but also removes DfID’s expertise where it is valued at a critical time.
« We strongly question the strategic coherence of greatly increasing UK aid to the whole region while closing DfID’s bilateral programme in Burundi, » said the report. « The money for an effective and efficient bilateral pogramme in Burundi could be found by very small reductions in the increases in funding of the other countries in the region. »
The committee recommended a scaling up of the existing programme, which it suggested should be supervised from the DfID office in Kigali, Rwanda. Should DfID stick to its decision, MPs called for a « responsible exit strategy » and said it should ensure, through other funding streams if necessary, that Burundi’s per capita aid did not decrease as a result.
Heavily dependent on aid, half of Burundi’s national budget is funded by external donors; aid constituted 43.9% of gross national income in 2010. Witnesses appearing before the committee expressed particular concern about the impact of DfID’s withdrawal on the justice sector. Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the Anglican archbishop of Burundi, told MPs that DfID’s withdrawal would stall progress on access to justice, stop support to the police and damage the empowerment of civil society.
DfID said it will continue to support Burundi through other channels, particularly through TMEA. « The government has been clear from day one that our priority is to ensure that every penny of taxpayers’ assistance is directed where it has the most impact for poor people and offers best value for money, » said Mitchell. « As part of a set of detailed reviews, we took the tough but responsible decision that Britain is best placed to help Burundi through other routes to tap into the economic growth in the region and to boost trade with its neighbours. A country-to-country programme is not always the most effective way of providing support. »