Jolke Oppewal, the Netherlands’ Ambassador to Burundi since February 2013, discusses his embassy’s projects and goals.
European Times: What are the Dutch government’s priorities in Burundi?
Jolke Oppewal: In 2011, the Netherlands decided to concentrate its development-cooperation programmes on 15 countries and chose Burundi as one of them. Our long-term plan for Burundi focusses on the three Ds: defence, diplomacy and development. One priority is to make sure that Burundi’s development aid is going to the right people in a transparent manner.
The Burundi government has partnered with the Dutch Ministries of Defence and Security & Justice in upgrading the army, including integrating the former rebel army, and launching a police force. The Dutch Embassy also has programmes on food security and on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Regarding food security, our programme aims to boost agricultural productivity and includes distribution of fertiliser subsidies directly to farmers in a transparent process. In all this we envisage a stronger role of the private sector.
European Times: What is your assessment of Burundi’s current government?
Jolke Oppewal: Burundi has emerged from a deep conflict and has reached stability. It is now in the transition of a post-conflict state to a development oriented state. The challenge for the government is to guide that process and show leadership in moving the country forward.
European Times: Why should foreign investors target Burundi?
Jolke Oppewal: Dutch company Heineken, which partly owns Brarudi Brewery, is one of the biggest foreign investors in Burundi and the brewery accounts for 10% of Burundi’s GDP. This is a successful private investment in an important product for the local market: beer. But Burundi also has potential for exports to regional and world markets, such as minerals and agricultural products, and Burundian coffee and tea which are among the best in the world. To develop this potential many investments are at present foreseen in energy, infrastructure and agro-processing. Partly, these will be financed by grant money.
One important Dutch program in this respect is ORIO, at this moment assessing investments in projects involving drinking water systems, waste-collection management and healthcare. Another example is PSI, a program to support pilot scale investments in innovative businesses up to €1.5 million. On condition of a good business plan between a foreign and a Burundian partner, we are willing to take over 60% of the start-up costs. The number of applicants from Burundi this year was among the highest, showing the eagerness and creativity of the private sector to invest in the potential of Burundi.
European Times: What is your personal message?
Jolke Oppewal: Burundi has come a long way from a very deep crisis and offers many opportunities. This is not the moment to let Burundi down.