Officially known as the Republic of Burundi, Burundi is a sovereign landlocked country that is located in the Africa continent. More specifically, the country lies in the African Great Lakes area of Eastern Africa and shares its borders with three countries. These countries are Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the north, east, and the south respectively. Bujumbura is the capital as well as the largest city. The total area of the country is 10,750 square miles, of which 9,920 square miles (about 92.2%) is land. The land border the country shares with its neighbors has a total length of about 710 miles. Of this total, the border with Tanzania is the longest at 366 miles, followed by Rwanda with 196 miles, and lastly the DRC with 147 miles.
Burundi – Tanzania Border
The Burundi-Tanzania border can be crossed at several places such as at Kabanga on the Tanzanian side of the border. The relations between the two countries have been good with the two countries being each other’s strategic partners in initiatives such as trade. Trade is an important aspect of the relations between the two countries since Burundi is landlocked while Tanzania is not. For this reason, about 80% of goods to Rwanda are handled at the port in Dar es Salaam and then transported to Burundi. These relations have seen Burundi set up an embassy and a consulate in Dar es Salaam and Kigoma respectively while Tanzania has an embassy in Bujumbura.
Aside from the trade, Tanzania has been a crucial partner to Burundi in the past by helping Burundi navigate through rough political periods. Since independence, Burundi has had several periods of instability. One such political conflict lasted between 1993 and 2005 during the Burundian Civil War. The war saw to it that at least 340,000 refugees have crossed to Tanzania for refuge. Tanzania helped Burundi in several ways such as providing refuge to the refugees and aiding in mediation.
Since Burundi became a member of the East African Community (EAC) and the EAC Customs Union in 2007 and 2009 respectively, the two neighbors have traded together frequently. Tanzania exports fairly priced products to Burundi such as building material, sugar, manufactured goods, wheat, and other products. To help in the facilitation of movement of people and goods between the two countries, the countries penned a One-Stop Border post accord in 2011. In recent times, however, the political unrest in Burundi means that the border security is heightened.
Burundi – DRC Border
Features such as the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika form the Burundi-DRC border. River Ruzizi forms the border between the two countries downstream while the upstream area forms part of the border between Rwanda and the DRC. Land border crossings between the two exist in places such as Kiliba town in the DRC. The town is situated close in South Kivu province close to Lake Tanganyika’s northern tip.
Like Tanzania above, the war in Burundi has forced many people to go seek refuge in the DRC. Due to the instability in Burundi, the neighboring countries, including the DRC, placed several embargos in 1993, which had an adverse effect on relations. However, the relations between Burundi and some of its neighbors have been improving steadily since the embargo was lifted in 1999. Today, Burundi maintains an embassy in Kinshasa (which is the capital of the DRC) while the DRC has an embassy in Bujumbura.
However, the DRC is also being plagued by civil war just like Burundi, which is a factor that has strained the relations between the two countries at times. These tensions are increased by the fact that fighters from Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda have joined up with rebel fighters in the DRC. These foreign forces not only help the rebels but also loot minerals resources from the DRC like coltan. One of the reasons why some of these fighters are coming to the aid of the rebels is that many believe that the DRC aided insurgency groups in the past attacking neighboring countries.
In 2017, Congolese soldiers opened fire on a group of refugees and killed at least 36 of them from Burundi. According to the soldiers, they opened fire after one of them was killed in a confrontation with the refugees. Acts like these are common and only serve to escalate tensions. Despite the constant tensions, at least 40,000 refugees from Burundi have moved to the DRC since 2015.
Burundi – Rwanda Border
One of the more well-known border crossings between Burundi and Rwanda is located at places like Akanyaru and Nemba, which is in Rwanda’s Eastern province some 37 miles from Kigali. Unfortunately, the relations between these two countries have gone sour to the point where neither country wants to talk or trade with one another. While tensions have always been present between the neighbors, they were increased in 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi won a third term in office. The win led to an increase in the civil war in Burundi, which has since forced thousands of Burundian refugees to move to Rwanda.
In recent times, the relations do not seem to have any hopes of improving since acts of aggravation are common. For example, in June 2018, Burundian forces allegedly attacked a sector known as Nyabimata Sector, which is located in the Sothern Province of Rwanda. On the other hand, Rwanda has been accusing Burundi of several breaches of protocol such as blocking people and goods from crossing the border to Rwanda. Political leaders such as the State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Rwanda have come out openly declaring that they will not open dialogue. Burundi has also lodged complaints against Rwanda to the EAC, the UN, and the African Union that Rwanda has been helping rebels who oppose the president.
In the past, the two countries enjoyed relatively stable relations that saw bustling trade every day. The decline in trade has caused some common goods to be overly priced by greedy traders, which causes suffering to the poor. The angry rhetoric between the two countries is not helping either.