Burundi, one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has recently emerged from more than decade of civil war that devastated the political and social landscape of the country. The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement was signed on August 28, 2000, which put in place a transitional government for the next four and a half years. Democratic and fair elections were held in 2005 and the process of implementing the peace agreement between the government and the last rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), concluded on June 10, 2008 with the signature of the Peace Accord. Two years after the 2005 elections, the Burundi Policy Reform project received a $11 million contract (subsequently adjusted to $9.2 million for budget reasons) from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve relations between the government, civil society, and media to promote more open communication and foster a transparent and participatory policy process. Through training, policy discussions, and grant-making, the project built the capacity of the different sectors to become familiar with various policy reform issues and create open dialogue on policy matters in an informed, participatory, and inclusive manner. By creating this synergy, the project was able to assist in identifying policy gaps, assessing sector roles, and creating meaningful policy reform.
The project worked through collaborative and inclusive processes in crucial policy areas such as anti-corruption, good governance, land reform, water management, women’s inheritance, human rights, and elections. The project’s impact in these areas shows clear and sustainable benefits for Burundians across the country. Some will see an immediate impact, for example Burundians in parts of the interior of the country now receiving radio coverage on issues affecting the population thanks to media equipment provided by the project. Others will see a long-term positive change, such as from the positive effects of anti-corruption reform.
Good governance. Throughout the past four years, the project team worked with the Burundi government to improve policy development capacity through targeted training, roundtable discussions, and larger-scale public promotion efforts. In 2008, a high-level government retreat was held for the president and his ministers where they discussed policy priorities and interacted together for the first time as newly elected officials. Following the government retreat, the president said the retreat was a huge success for his administration and for the country. He expressed his gratitude to USAID and stated that it was the first time his cabinet had been given the opportunity to work together in a unified manner to arrive at a consensus on fundamental issues facing the country. Many important commitments made during this retreat turned into concrete actions during the project period.
By training elected government officials and government spokespersons on their respective roles, responsibilities, and obligation for accountability, the public was given improved access to services and information about government initiatives and reforms. Internally, within the Ministry of Good Governance and Privatization, the project improved capacity of ministry staff to inform the public about its mission, increase transparency through enhanced lines of communication, and create more effective governance. Additionally, the project focused on anti-corruption, a high-profile and sensitive issue in Burundi. The project not only promoted strategies to prevent, monitor, and create sanctions for instances of corruption but also worked with the government as implementers, with civil society as advocates and monitors, and with the media as liaisons to the public. By employing an inclusive training methodology, the different sectors of society were able to acknowledge and commit to creating an improved culture of oversight, transparency, public disclosure, and information sharing. In addition to government officials acknowledging the existence of corruption, many civil society groups and others now talk about it openly. Tangible advances were made in this area through open communication, progress upon recommendations for amendments to the anti-corruption law, and the translation of the law into Kirundi, the national language. Civil society and media organizations were also engaged in implementing campaigns on the anti-corruption law to raise awareness of the government’s accountability obligations and citizens’ rights. The project also trained civil society organizations in the concept and techniques of participative advocacy to help civil society work collaboratively with the government to achieve reform. In this vein, the project also supported the creation of a network to monitor the use of public resources.
Elections. In 2009, the project contributed to increased transparency and integrity in the electoral process by an analysis of the electoral code followed by a roundtable that helped stakeholders learn about international standards for elections and reach common ground on ways that the electoral code should be revised. The collaborative approach demonstrated the need to have government officials and civil society representatives involved in improving the electoral process. A few of the proposed revisions from the roundtable, such as those related to updating lists of registered voters and to using national identity cards on election day, were retained in the code that passed parliament. The project also printed voluminous copies of legal texts, electoral code, and illustrated voting process guidelines during the 2010 elections, and financed radio spots on the voting process to increase understanding and encourage transparency by all voters and election commissions.
Land reform. The project’s integral participation in all aspects of passing a revised land code led to meaningful policy reform that has already begun and will continue to affect change in the lives of rural and urban Burundians. From the beginning of the project, the Chemonics team has worked closely with the Burundi government on a more substantive and effective land code. Together, with various government ministries, international donor partners, civil society, and the media, the project proposed, organized, and facilitated public forums throughout the country to discuss changes to the land code. The project also developed a highly successful national media campaign to inform the population about the law and generate public support. After several years of work by the project team and government officials, the parliament and senate passed the land code and the president signed it into law. To continue to benefit the population, the project created, printed, and distributed a layman’s mini-guide in Kirundi that explains the law’s practical application and ensures that all levels of society will have a clear understanding of their new rights and responsibilities. The project also printed posters explaining the land registration process, developed a training manual to be used by trainers to ensure consistent content and methodology for the training of officials, and printed 4,000 copies of the land code for distribution. All tools were given to the Ministry of Water, Environment, Land Management, and Urban Planning for distribution.
Water resource management. The project helped policymakers make the first significant progress on a national water policy since the last effort stalled in 2001. By conducting analysis and public validation of two sectoral policies for water resource management, the project was able to move forward with an informed and focused effort. The Burundi Policy Reform project worked with the Burundi government to create and validate a national water code to improve water management. By educating members of the National Assembly to further advocate for the adoption of the code, parliamentarians understood the urgency for adoption of the water code to establish water regulation procedures. The project facilitated the law’s translation into English, a first for Burundi, and a move that will encourage better regional cooperation on water resource management. Further, the project drafted the decree that will establish a water regulatory authority to enable quick implementation of the water code following promulgation.
Human rights. The project worked to strengthen the institutional capacity of civil society organizations, particularly those focused on women, to advocate for gender-based violence, victims of torture, and conflict management. By launching campaigns and engaging in effective discourse with the government and the media, civil society groups were able to open up about the sensitive and often dangerous nature of supporting human rights, which led to increased awareness and understanding. The project created a consortium of organizations working in human rights to strengthen advocacy efforts to eradicate torture in Burundi. Multiple grants were given to build further organizational and financial capacity as well as to advocate for women’s, children’s, and/or victims’ rights.
Conclusion. This report discusses the details of how the reform processes made actual improvements in the lives of Burundian across various sectors through informed, collaborative, and participatory processes. By creating an environment that encourages transparency and opens up lines of communication, the project was able to increase the visibility of various ministries and organizations. By promoting advocacy and political participation skills among women leaders and civil society, a more inclusive and well-rounded policy reform process will evolve. The focus on combating corruption, managing land through a detailed and fair process, using water responsibly, advocating for the elimination of torture, and governing effectively and efficiently will continue to remain as long-term objectives for the policy reform process in Burundi. The project’s Burundian-led approach allowed the team to work in close collaboration with national and international partners remaining flexible in an ever-changing challenging and sensitive environment. During the project term, the team identified ways to prioritize policy issues, promote increased civic participatory advocacy, support media involvement in the political process, and reach consensus in a collaborative way to produce effective policy reform.