Jordan Ryan: UNDP address at the Development Partners Conference on Burundi, Geneva, Switzerland

Oct 29, 2012

Your Excellency Gervais Rufyikiri, Second Vice President of the Republic of Burundi,

Your Excellencies, Ministers of the Republic of Burundi,

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and its Administrator Helen Clark, I would like to thank the Government of Burundi for organizing this important conference.

UNDP has been pleased to support the Government in organizing this Partners Conference, and we are pleased to see the participation of so many nations, international organizations, civil society and private sector representatives. This is an important demonstration of the collective commitment of international support to Burundi’s development efforts.

We think this Partners Conference is important for a number of reasons. I will make five main points in these remarks. These points will consider the importance of this Partners Conference and its approach; the challenges that Burundi faces now and in the future; acknowledgment of the nation’s considerable achievements to date; some questions that we should explore together; and I will conclude with some thoughts on how donors can come together in a new manner to deliver support effectively.

First, reflective of the national characteristic of Burundians, innate resilience, it should come as no surprise, that the Government and the population have come together to present a way forward towards improving Burundi’s future.

Thus, the format of this Partners’ Conference represents an innovative consultative model based on a broad discussion on Burundi’s development priorities. It provides us with an extraordinary opportunity for networking, exchanging experiences and ideas in an inclusive setting. And it offers the chance to promote collaborations and alliances with both new and existing partners of Burundi.

Presently Burundi stands at a critical crossroad in its history, energized by the progress made so far, but conscious of the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

There can be no doubt that Burundi confronts serious challenges. This is of course the second main feature of our collective discussion.

Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Corruption and impunity; poor access to education; the effects of HIV and AIDS; a lack of job and food security; scarcity of land; and a limited infrastructure are challenges enough for any government to deal with.

And while Burundi has seen much suffering, and challenges are formidable, the people of Burundi are strong. They have demonstrated great resilience in the past. The government and population have taken such significant steps in recent years towards improving the country’s future.

The third focus must be on the achievements. Since the mid-2000s, Burundi has embarked upon an ambitious programme of stabilization, national reconciliation and economic reforms.

Drawing on the help of the international community, which includes my agency – UNDP, the broader UN system, the World Bank, NGOs – and many governments represented here today –- the Government and people have done much. I think there is an impressive list of achievements for which both can be proud:

             Elections were first held in 2005, and again in 2010;

             The ceasefire and signing of the Arusha peace agreement in 2005, along with financial and economic reforms have seen the country experience rapid economic growth of about four percent annually - making development progress possible;

             Establishment of the National Independent Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman’s Office, and recently a Truth and Reconciliation Commission;

             Creation of an anti-corruption brigade and a special court following enactment of anti-corruption legislation.

             Burundi is an international success story in terms of women’s representation in the parliament, cabinet and local councils;

             The Burundi Revenue Authority was established, and this has already led to a significant increase in public revenue collected;

             Burundi is now a member of the East African Community and continues to embrace the dynamics of regional integration;

             Extreme poverty has come down from around 80 percent in 2005, to 66 percent today;

             Since His Excellency President Pierre Nkurunziza made universal primary education free, the ratio of girls to boys in primary school has reached 99 percent, and net primary school enrolment soared from about 60 percent in 2005 to over 94 percent today.

             Life expectancy rose from 43 years in 2000 to over 50 years in the same period; and

             Under-five mortality fell by 20 percent from 2005 to 2010 due to free health services for pregnant women, as well as for children under the age of five.

These achievements are indeed impressive. Yet many of these indicators are still barely halfway between where the government and people were at the end of the conflict seven years ago - and where they aspire to be today – or the target indicators for the Millennium Development Goals.

The commitment to reform cannot wane. The Government, the People nor Burundi’s Partners can let it. Experience of other post-conflict countries suggests that in spite of a very positive trend since peace was declared – there is a need for vigilance. The risk of slowing down or eventually reversing progress still exists - as long as ordinary people face insecurity and poverty.

Furthermore, several threats loom on the horizon: rising food, energy and fuel prices; global economic instability; extreme weather from climate change or climate variability to name a few. 

The attention of international donors cannot be diverted from Burundi. There is still a clear need to support a smooth transition from post-conflict recovery, to the longer-term goal of poverty reduction, with a focus on the youth bulge, and economic development.

As delegates, you embody the diversity of Burundi’s partners. Together, you share an interest in Burundi’s future and will be vital as we discuss today how we can support its development agenda.

We need to discuss how the international assistance to Burundi will look in coming years, what the challenges and opportunities are and how best to respond to these.

The starting point for our discussions is Vision 2025, the government’s over-arching plan for national development; the Strategic Framework for Growth and Fight Against Poverty for the 2012-2016 period; also known as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) second generation.

This document presents priority areas in which coordinated interventions are essential in Burundi:

             Economic growth to help the people;

             The development of transport, telecommunications, agriculture, energy and water infrastructure;

             The promotion of small- and medium-sized enterprises as a driving force for growth and job creation; and

             Strengthening state institutions to improve service delivery to the poor.

 There is an emphasis on opportunity in the document.

And isn’t this the best way to frame our discussions today. Let’s turn the focus upon Burundi’s assets – and how the country can use these assets to meet its needs.

Instead of framing the country only by its problems, perhaps we can emphasize the sometimes hidden strengths, such as the human and market potential, natural resources, unique geostrategic position, or talented local entrepreneurs.

Some questions I think we should be asking today include:

             How can Burundi improve its governance and business climate to in-turn improve trade and take better advantage of its regional integration? Due to its position at the crossroads of East and West Africa, Burundi sits on a geographical and strategic bridge. How can Burundi improve relations with its neighbors to increase exports and travel links? 

             As Burundi’s per capita income is still only at 60 percent of the average in the Great Lakes region, significant potential for improvement remains. How can Burundi further increase economic growth?

             In this regard, investment in infrastructure – electricity, roads, bridges, transport – combined with active social policy, should be capable of setting off a new cycle of development based on the expansion of the domestic market. What steps can the government take to encourage this kind of investment?

             What will the Burundian economy and society look like in five or ten years? We don’t have the full answer to that, but the key to unlocking Burundi’s potential is to invest in human capital, and Burundi has to anticipate its human capital needs, therefore: How does the country expand its pool of skilled human resources? What are the existing gaps in education, training and skill development? 

Finally, I think Burundi’s national and international partners have to continue to prod each other to act in new ways to be more effective, efficient and supportive of transiting from conflict to peace. This will mean we will need to tackle the challenge of aid coordination, or providing support to the Government to take on this task. UNDP stands ready to draw on its many years of experience, as well as tools, to engage with others to provide state of the art assistance in this regard.

The challenge will be for all of us to think, how can we pool and coordinate international technical, political and financial support to ensure that the government is able to implement the PRSP second generation?

To speed up the process of providing help to the people that need it, the PRSP includes a set of priority development activities, where action can be taken immediately; and in some cases - work has already begun. We are grateful to those “early adopters” amongst you that have already begun funding activities in this period between post-conflict recovery and long-term development.

It is imperative that the international community continues supporting the democratization process initiated in 2005 with a focus on greater scrutiny of public management, political transformation and reconciliation, open and fair elections, and the promotion of security and violence reduction.

Hence closer interaction among citizens, the private sector and the state, as well as the promotion of political dialogue to create a more peaceful political and social environment are vital.

In many parts of the world, experience has shown that business leadership can play a crucial role in political development, democratization, and peace. Business activity can create jobs and opportunities, enable technology transfer, build human capital and physical infrastructure, and generate revenue for governments. Each of these positively impacts on social and economic development. If supported by responsible business practices, more inclusive business models, and financial, technical, institutional or policy innovations, they can make major contributions to poverty reduction.

Over the coming weeks, the government will set up a series of meetings to coordinate activities in each sector - based on the outcome of this partners’ conference. These meetings will also build on the groundwork laid today for achieving the PRSP targets. UNDP will work closely with the government and the international community, as well as the UN system, to ensure that the actions identified at these meetings become a reality.

UNDP was actively engaged in the formulation of Vision 2025, and worked closely with the government in the preparation of this conference. UNDP is committed to the implementation of the PRSP in close collaboration with Burundi and all its partners.

We will have to be fast and flexible, to ensure that we can provide the support needed, in a timely and appropriate manner. Above all, we will continue to pursue our shared vision of a Burundi free from poverty.

Distinguished participants, let me conclude where I began with some stark facts:

Today, more than 16 percent of children in Burundi will die before their fifth birthday; one third of the adult population cannot read; and close to 1,000 women will die in pregnancy or giving birth per 100,000 live births.

Our discussions today can mark the way forward to changing this drastic situation.

We have seen what can be achieved…for we have seen Burundi achieve so much in terms of peace and security. We have seen Burundi contribute to international peace including in Somalia. Now, it is time for an all out effort to focus on solidifying peace and stability by eliminating poverty and encouraging human development.

Today, UNDP renews its determination to support building a Burundi where every child has sufficient food to eat, good health care and education, and a future with opportunity and the prospect to grow and achieve in peace.  This is a Burundi where each person can participate in, and contribute to, the success his or her community and country.  This is a Burundi that requires a Partnership built upon the spirit and resolve of our work today and tomorrow.

Thank you.

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