Burundi ranks at 165th place on Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index1 with a score of 19 out of 100, indicating high levels of perceived corruption. Out of 49 countries assessed in sub-Saharan Africa, Burundi is in 46th place, receiving the third-lowest score. While the speeches of Burundian leaders proclaim zero tolerance of corruption,2 these scores indicate that political will is not there. Burundi also occupies 147th place out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, indicating little freedom of the press.3
Burundi has no consistent and updated national anti-corruption strategy and only fragmented anti-corruption laws and political undertakings to fight corruption, despite commitments made by the new leadership that assumed power in Burundi two years ago. At the international and regional levels, Burundi has ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption4 and the African Union Convention on Prevention and Fight against Corruption.5
While sanctions on the activity of some anti-corruption activists and journalists have been lifted in the past two years, civil society still faces considerable obstacles to their work. Moreover, the recent abolition of the Anti-Corruption Court by parliament, restricted media freedom, and the lack of an access to information law, are all challenges to truly tackling corruption and recovering stolen assets.
Asset recovery in Burundi
Burundi does not have a special law on asset recovery, instead, it relies on money laundering and financing of terrorism legislation.6 When it comes to international asset recovery, a gap exists in the legal framework on the confiscation of criminal proceeds in foreign jurisdictions. Burundian law does not allow for the execution of foreign confiscation orders for assets located in Burundi, nor for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime of foreign origin linked to money laundering offenses and other offenses established by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Moreover, Burundi does not have a non-conviction-based forfeiture law. Burundi also does not regulate the restitution and disposal of assets.
Asset recovery reform
Several institutions play a role in preventing corruption in the country:
- the Court of Auditors,
- the General Inspectorate of the State,
- the Burundian Revenue Office,
- the Anti-Corruption Special Brigade,
- the General Prosecutor’s Office,
- the Anti-Corruption Court,
- the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic, and
- the Supreme Court.
However, on April 28, 2021, a draft organic law7 reassigning the powers of the Special Anti-Corruption Brigade, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the Anti-Corruption Court was adopted by the National Assembly of Burundi. During oral questions to the National Assembly, Madame Jeanine Nibizi, the Minister of Justice, said that this law will determine a new approach of the government in the fight against corruption and that by restructuring and decentralising the institutions responsible for the fight against corruption and related offenses, it will bring anti-corruption criminal justice closer to citizens and companies.8
According to the opinions of civil society leaders engaged in the fight against corruption in Burundi,9 the recent amendment of the law raises concerns. They voice the concern that instead of suppressing anti-corruption bodies, the anti-corruption law should rather be revised with the aim of making the institutions more efficient and useful for the benefit of the citizens.
Progress in asset recovery
Engagement between the government and civil society has been made difficult by low levels of trust. Moreover, some cases of assassination and assassination attempts of politicians have occurred10 making government officials cautious of attending bigger meetings or gatherings with activists and the public. As a result, there have been few opportunities for civil society actors and others to participate in asset recovery policymaking and reform.
With the election of General Évariste Ndayishimiye to the presidency in 2020, a new window of opportunity has opened for civil society to resume its work. Several pressing anti-corruption challenges exist in the country, and civil society could drive the setting of the agenda for change, including on asset recovery. Regional channels of engagement could be especially effective to move forward anti-corruption legislation, for example via the African Parliamentarian’s Network Against Corruption (APNAC), which has acted as an effective coordination body in the past.11
While capacity, capability, and civic space to openly conduct public campaigns on the issues of illicit financial flows and corruption are limited, there are some signs of improvement. This year, PARCEM, one of the leading anti-corruption organisations previously active in the country has been allowed to operate again.12
There is very little information available on the cases of misappropriation of public assets and the efforts of Burundian authorities to recover them. There are no consistent, regularly published statistics available online via government institutions. Only some isolated instances of aggregate data publicised in the media exist.
In 2017, decisions of Anti-Corruption Court13 in cases of embezzlement of public funds with an order to return these funds to the State amounted to BIF 3,280,357,789 (approx. USD 1.6 million). From this sum, an amount of BIF 357,053 852 (approx. USD 176,000) had been successfully recovered. The recovery rate for that year was thus 11%. In the first half of 2018, the joint efforts of the Anti-Corruption Court and the General Prosecutor’s Office have been said to lead to the recovery of over BIF 980 million (approx. USD 500,000). According to Burundian civil society, such low recovery numbers point to the lack of skills as well as a limited mandate of these institutions.14
One of the few recently publicised corruption cases concerns four individuals, who have been in detention for embezzling funds from the Mugamba commune in Bururi province since March 2021.15 Some of these individuals were caught with false books of receipts intended for the collection of communal taxes worth four million Burundian francs. According to the communal authority, the case is being investigated and attempts are underway to uncover this network and arrest all persons involved in this embezzlement. A similar case appeared in 2020 in this same municipality when the administrator and the accountant were arrested and detained for having diverted municipal taxes on green tea leaves. However, the municipality has not yet recovered the funds.16
Due to a lack of legislation, there do not seem to have been any cases of successful international asset recovery. The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiate (StAR) Database of cross-border corruption cases with asset recovery elements does not mention any cases related to Burundi.
International Institutional Engagement
In addition to the ratification of the major conventions of UNCAC and the African Union, Burundi is a member of the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for Eastern Africa (ARIN-EA) and of the Network of National Anti-Corruption Institutions in Central Africa (RINAC). The country is also an observer with the Southern African Inter-Institutional Network for Asset Recovery (ARINSA). Furthermore, Burundi is also a member of the East African Association of Anticorruption Authorities (EAAACA). All these networks provide opportunities for law enforcement officers from Burundi to share experiences and good practices with members from other countries. Network members also receive training according to their areas of expertise, for example, the International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR) supported ARIN-EA members to gain new knowledge on financial investigations and asset recovery.17
Additionally, Burundi is an observer jurisdiction to the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). Burundi is not on the list of FATF monitored jurisdictions and has not participated in a mutual evaluation reporting process.
While the situation for civil society in Burundi has improved in the last two years and several NGOs have resumed their operations, civil society still faces considerable restrictions on and surveillance of their activities.18 On the policy level, CSOs have been active around asset declarations of politicians. However, due to the difficult operational environment and the low capacity of NGOs, there has been only limited cooperation of civil society with lawmakers on establishing new laws to curtail corruption and illicit financial flows.
In Burundi, civil society organizations are governed by a law on non-profit associations, which provides ample room for discretion and abuse from public officials due to its vague approval procedure.19 After the political and economic crises in 2015 following election disputes, a number of organisations were banned and some of their members imprisoned.20 Due to the prosecution and accusations of involvement in anti-government activities, many activists have fled and operate from outside the country. As a result, there are few civil society organizations in Burundi engaged in the fight against corruption and in asset recovery.
Even though the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, in practice it is severely curtailed. The government has been using laws governing the work of NGOs and the media to control their reporting and activities. This applies to both local and international media, with organisations such as the BBC being put under a suspension order. As a consequence, the majority of Burundi’s news is controlled by and aligned with the government, including TV and radio stations and the only daily newspaper in the country.21
Burundi has not yet adopted a law on access to information, which makes any anti-corruption and investigative work more challenging. Even though the new administration has been less hostile to the media, stark surveillance and monitoring of media activities still make independent investigative work impossible. Therefore, investigative and independent journalists tend to operate outside of the country.22
- Transparency International. 2020. Corruption Perception Index.
- Ndikumana, Jonathan. 2020. Lutte contre la corruption: La bataille va-t-elle enfin être gagnée? BurundiEco. Available at: http://burundi-eco.com/lutte-contre-la-corruption-la-bataille-va-t-elle-enfin-etre-gagnee/#.YRuKdC0RppR
- Reporters without Borders, Press Freedom Index 2021: Burundi, accessed 15 October 2021, Reporters without Borders, Press Freedom Index 2021: Germany, accessed 15 October 2021, https://rsf.org/en/germany
- Loi N°1/03 du 18 janvier 2005 portant ratification de la République du Burundi de la Convention des Nations Unies contre la Corruption. Available at: https://www.assemblee.bi/IMG/pdf/loi%20n%C2%B01_03_du_18_janvier_2005.pdf
- Loi N°1/02 du 18 janvier 2005 portant ratification de la République du Burundi de la Convention de l’Union Africaine sur la Prévention et la Lutte contre la Corruption. Available at: https://www.assemblee.bi/IMG/pdf/loi%20n%C2%B01_02_du_18_janvier_2005.pdf
- Loi N°1/02du 04 février 2008 portant lutte contre le blanchiment des capitaux et le financement du terrorisme. Available at: http://www.droit-afrique.com/upload/doc/burundi/Burundi-Loi-2008-lutte-blanchiment-et-financement-du-terrorisme.pdf
- Analyse et adoption du projet de loi organique portant réattributions des compétences de la cour anti-corruption, de son parquet général et celles de la brigade spéciale anti-corruption, Assemblée Nationale du Burundi, 2021. Available at: https://www.assemblee.bi/spip.php?page=imprimer&id_article=2334
- Suppression de la cour anti-corruption, Journal Burundi Eco, 2021. Available at: http://burundi-eco.com/suppression-cour-anti-corruption-pourquoi-volte-face-gouvernement/#.YRohS886_IU
- Freedom House. Freedom In The World 2021: Burundi. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/country/burundi/freedom-world/2021
- Interview with a Burundi CSO representative. July 2021.
- SOS Medias Burundi. 2021. Burundi: the government has lifted the suspension measure of the local NGO PARCEM. Available at: https://www.sosmediasburundi.org/2021/04/05/burundi-le-gouvernement-a-leve-la-mesure-de-suspension-de-long-locale-parcem/
- Opinion et réflexion sur quelques outils de lutte contre la corruption, journal IWACU Burundi, 2021.
- Manishatse, Lorraine Josiane. 2018. Anti-corruption watchdog questions Anti-Corruption Court report. IWACU English News. Available at: https://www.iwacu-burundi.org/englishnews/anti-corruption-watchdog-questions-anti-corruption-court-report/
- Mugamba quatre personnes en détention pour détournement, SOS media Burundi, 2021.
- ARIN-EA. 2020. East Africa training online, Available at: https://baselgovernance.org/news/learning-through-doing-even-online-east-africa-training-arin-ea
- Human Rights Watch. 2021. Burundi: Entrenched Repression of Civil Society, Media. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/26/burundi-entrenched-repression-civil-society-media
- Niyonizigiye, Olivier. 2014. Burundian Civil Society Organisations And The Monitoring Of Development Effictiveness: Capacity, Structure And Engagement Framework For Government, Donors And Civil Society Organisations. Available at: https://media.africaportal.org/documents/Burundi_Research_Report_English_final_Version_1.pdf
- Freedom House. Freedom In The World 2021: Burundi. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/country/burundi/freedom-world/2021, AFP. 2018. Three rights activists sentenced to 10 years in Burundi. Available at: https://www.news24.com/news24/Africa/News/three-rights-activists-sentenced-to-10-years-in-burundi-20180309
- Alfred, Charlotte. 2019, November 18. How Exiled Journalists Keep Investigating in China, Burundi, Venezuela, Russia, and Turkey. Available at: https://gijn.org/2019/11/18/how-exiled-journalists-keep-investigating-in-china-burundi-venezuela-russia-and-turkey/