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Explaining Growth in Burundi: 1960-2000

By Janvier D. Nkurunziza and Floribert Ngaruko

Abstract

This study analyses Burundi’s economic performance over the period 1960-2000 and finds that it has been catastrophic. The usual economic factors explaining growth are endogenous to political decisions, suggesting that it is politics not economics that explains the dismal performance. This picture particularly limits the relevance of textbook models that rely on the assumption of a competitive resource allocation rule. When cronies rather than qualified managers are running the economy, when priority is given to investment projects in function of their location rather than the objective needs of the economy, the economic model loses its explanatory power. Economic performance has been shaped by the occurrence of violent conflicts caused by factions fighting for the control of the state and its rents. The capture of rents by a small group have become the overarching objective of the successive governments that have ruled the country since shortly after its independence. Therefore, the economic system will not change unless the political system is modernised from a dictatorial regime playing a zero-sum game to a more democratic and accountable regime. Therefore, it would be naïve to propose that economic reforms will boost the country’s economy if they are not preceded or at least accompanied by political reforms. One central message of this study is that Burundi’s poor economic performance is the result of specific identifiable factors evolving around governance. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Burundi: Development failure may be reversed if the issues identified in the study are properly addressed.

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