Stéphane de Loecker, EU Ambassador to Burundi, discusses projects and priorities.
European Times: What are some of the EU delegation’s current projects?
Stéphane de Loecker: We are helping the government prepare for the 2015 elections, which will be a milestone for Burundi, and are ensuring that the opposition is involved in the process. All parties seem to realise that peace is the way to progress. We are also trying to generate more support for Burundi in the EU, for example through the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and other funding sources. We are particularly advocating support in four key areas: healthcare, rural development, good governance and energy.
Burundi has enormous untapped hydropower potential, and we are working with the World Bank on the €700 million Ruzizi III regional hydropower project. Another project we support is to build solar panels to be used in the healthcare sector. We believe that political stability and improved energy supplies are the two main factors that will kick-start Burundi’s economic development.
European Times: What are some of the main challenges Burundi faces?
Stéphane de Loecker: While the country’s GDP has been rising, GDP per capita has been declining. In some areas, the population density is 600 inhabitants per square kilometre and the birth rate is 6.1 children per woman. This is a ticking time bomb. It is up to the government to take steps to deal with this. We are supporting educational programmes as well as providing assistance in achieving transparency, since this is crucial in obtaining international support. Even though there are challenges, Burundi is definitely making progress.
European Times: Why should European investors target Burundi?
Stéphane de Loecker: Burundi has dynamic leaders, including Second Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri. In addition, this country offers many high-potential investment opportunities, particularly in agriculture, energy and mining. In agriculture, promising crops include pineapples, avocados, tomatoes and oil-palm, all very high quality, but needing better infrastructure and management. In mining, Burundi has a large nickel deposit that is just being explored. Extracting and refining are extremely energy-consuming and transportation is a challenge, but with the help of investors, train lines could be built from Kigoma, Tanzania, to Bujumbura, going past the mines. In energy, Burundi could supply its own needs and export electricity.
European Times: What is your personal message to our readers?
Stéphane de Loecker: This country needs you and while there are still problems, you can make a profit here. My main message is that Burundi definitely has potential.