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Great opportunities open up in Burundi as economy evolves

Now is an opportune time to scout for untapped markets in Burundi

By Prof Richard Miller

Burundi is a nearby country that is surrounded by Rwanda, the DRC, Tanzania and boarding Lake Tanganyika. It is small, lush and hilly. The country is still very rural, with urban penetration quite low, creating a densely populated country with the youth making up a large portion of the 12 million population. The birthrate is one of the highest in the world (over 3 per cent), which means that it will double again in the next two decades if that trend continues.  

The main city of Bujumbura is located in the western part of the country, on the shores of the beautiful Lake Tanganyika. The city (much like the country) is in the midst of change, as it was announced in February that the capital is being moved from there to the centrally located Gitega. Therefore, there are infrastructure projects and economic activity going on. 

Tips to get there

While the airport is well developed, due to a variety of reasons, the tickets might be very expensive. In a recent flight search, the tickets from JKIA were KSh170, 000 return, while tickets to Kigali were KSh69, 000 return, though the flight stopped in Bujumbura (passengers are not allowed to depart the plane, before the final destination). There are other options such as using Ethiopian Air, though it may take a long time to get there. However, this situation is unlikely to continue for long so expect better and more options in the future.  

The currency is the Burundi Franc, and it currently trades at .055 to the Shilling (meaning that KSh1000 trades at 18,000 Francs). There are a variety of items on offer in the markets, but many are imported from Rwanda, China, and Kenya. Hotels are affordable and open to negotiations. A four-star hotel listed on hotels.com went for about half of the listed USD130 when asked at the desk. Restaurants often give French influenced service with white tablecloth meals at 28,000 Francs (KSh1500), consisting of meat and fish from Lake Tanganyika. 

Investment opportunities

Despite having been ranked by the World Bank as one of the poorest countries in the world in various metrics, it has so much to offer for travelers and business people. This is because of the efforts by the government and the citizens to rise above the challenges that have marred her history. How quickly a country can rise from a dark past has been exemplified by Ethiopia and Rwanda and Burundi is following suit. 

Investment opportunities abound in various sectors from small scale businesses to major infrastructure projects. But, according to doingbusiness.org, it takes perseverance to do business in the country, as it is ranked number 168 out of 190 countries business friendly countries. This however does not spell doom for the enthusiastic business minded people looking to settle in Burundi, as there are manufacturing hubs slowly being developed. The internet connections for example are surprisingly strong and numerous in Bujumbura.

 Commodities are still the mainstay of the economy, and with that there are the ubiquitous coffee and tea, some with high value-added possibilities. In fact, some of the highest prices ever paid for coffee was to a grower in the northern Kayanza district in 2014, illustrating the potential for agriculture development. There are other agricultural opportunities in livestock and cash crops (cotton, bananas, corn and flowers) that are easily adaptable to the climate. 

Tourism in Burundi

Investment in tourism is something that should be considered, as it is ready to expand. There are 156 different government recognised travel destinations in the country, and  ample places for tourists. That means the potential for the growth will expand as access becomes easier (an online platform for visa applications is expected to be active within this year), and the country becomes known as safe for visitors.    

A linguistically dynamic country

English is far more widely spoken in Burundi than many other Franco-African countries, and the move towards English is prevalent. There are more and more places to study English, including the young but fast-growing English only University, Summit International Institute, started by the chairman Samuel Nagyu, who is a Kenyan. He indicates that there is a lot of positive support from the government and overwhelming demand for education in English. With the linguistic shift away from French, there are bound to be the geopolitical changes to follow as the country moves further into the EAC. 

With ample business opportunities in every sector of the economy, now is an excellent time to visit Burundi, whether for sightseeing, or for investment in business.  

 Richard Miller is a professor at the Department of English at Osaka Jogakuin University in Osaka Japan. He also works for Management university of Africa. He travelled to Thailand and compiled his Thai experience in this article. Email: rmiller@mua.ac.ke

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