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A blunt instrument.

The embargo imposed on Burundi by its neighbours since Major Pierre Buyoya took over power a year and a half ago has succeeded only in further impoverishing the peasants. Everybody else seems to have clone quite well out of it.

In some ways, the embargo has been lethally efficient. As a direct result of the shortage of veterinary products, for example, cattle herds in the northern provinces have been decimated by an epidemic of bovine contagious pneumonia. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there has been a 20% decrease of the national herd. Now there is some hope that the easing of sanctions, following the opening of talks between the Burundi government and the armed opposition National Council for the Defence of Democracy (NCDD) might help to contain the epidemic.

The country is also suffering a serious food deficit. This has been caused partly by insecurity in many areas and partly by the government's policy of 'villagisation'. This takes the form of grouping hundreds of thousands of peasants near the main roads in huge camps under the army's control, in order, so the army says, to "protect" them from guerillas. Large areas have thus remained uncultivated.

Effects of the sanctions have gone deep into the country's economy. During the first three months of the embargo, imports of fuel collapsed to less than 10% of usual requirements. This scuttled the transport sector and devastated collection of crops.

By the end of 1996, coffee exports, on which Burundi survives, had plummeted from 24,915 to 13,400 metric tonnes and tea exports fell from 6,678 to 3,939 tonnes. Paradoxically, coffee output had increased slightly from 31,441 tonnes in 1995 to 32,152 tonnes in 1996. The tea output of 5,716 tonnes was lower than 1995's production of 7,006 tonnes, mainly because of the destruction of the Teza factory in early July 1995. The consequence was a drop of total export receipts from BrF25,900m in 1995 to BrF11,200m in 1996.

Continued insecurity in both Burundi and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which led to the closure of the border between the two countries, brought gold re-exports (which had amounted to 9.6 tonnes in 1994) to a complete halt.

The lack of imported spare parts, raw materials and inputs led to a severe decline in industrial production. By the end of 1996, the output of building materials and soap was only half that of 1995. By contrast however, Burundi Breweries (60% owned by Heineken and 40% by the government) performed rather well in such adverse circumstances: beer production only fell by 12.6% from 1.4m hectolitres to 1.2m hectolitres. The production of cigarettes decreased by 14% from 522m to 449m but surprisingly, in spite of the embargo, sugar production rose by 16% in 1996 up to 17,755 metric tonnes and the production of cotton oil also increased by 10.9% up to 234,000 litres. The shoe industry came to a standstill, but fabric production increased by 12.9% from 3.9 to 4.4 square metres.

Other sectors of the industry also, paradoxically, seemed to do quite well despite the embargo. Private airlines initiated regular cargo and passenger flights to Brazzaville, Luanda, Charleroi (Belgium) and Dubai, and evacuated the remaining stocks of the 1996 coffee and tea crops. Since July, East African Airways has been flying once a week to Burundi.

Since January, traffic has resumed at Bujumbura port and actually increased at the port of Mpulungu on Lake Tanganyika as a result of Zambia's de facto decision to stop enforcing the embargo. Even before the fall of Mobutu's regime, some trade between the DRC and Burundi had resumed.

In general, the embargo has severely hit the rural population and infant malnutrition has been on the rise. The total cost of the embargo is estimated at $300m for the first five months of 1996.

However, while the embargo certainly did slow down the Burundian economy, it has not strangle it completely. Nor has it succeeded in ousting Major Pierre Buyoya's government installed after the 25 July 1996 coup.

Some even claim that the embargo has helped Burundian traders discover new outlets and new supply routes. The only net losers have been the already poor peasants. Perhaps it is time for a serious re-think about the effects of embargoes.
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Title Annotation:embargo on Burundi
Author:Misser, Francois
Publication:African Business
Date:Nov 1, 1997
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