Trying And Failing To Stamp Out Corruption In Africa

In the nation of Burundi, serious efforts are being made to make businesses more attractive to outside investors. Still, it ranks near the very bottom of global transparency rankings.

The fight against corruption affects everyone in Burundi
The fight against corruption affects everyone in Burundi
Silvère Hicuburundi

BUJUMBURA - Thanks to its recent regulatory reforms, Burundi has done a lot to facilitate business and job creation. So much so that it has been named as one of the World Bank Doing Business Report Top 10 most improved economies for the second straight year.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most corrupt countries in the World, ranked 12th in the 2012 Transparency International index. Corruption, which is particularly rife in the public tendering process, wipes out the government’s efforts to make the country attractive for investors.

“This is unacceptable, Transparency International must give Burundi a second chance by actually taking into account the efforts made by this country to win the fight against corruption,” said Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The 2012 Transparency International index ranked Burundi 165th out of 174 countries – behind its neighbors: the Democratic Republic of Congo (160th) and far from Rwanda (50th). This came as quite a slap in the government’s face, especially as it was celebrating its encouraging Doing Business rating.

Leonidas Havyarimana, an official with the good governance ministry, says that “instead of whining and blaming Transparency International, the government should deal with the problem head first and implement concrete measures against corruption – a crime whose victims are the investors and businessman who deal with the administration.”

Activist Illuminee Niyakire says: “This high-level corruption dealing with huge amounts of money; the tainted tendering process and cash bribes – that’s what’s undermining this country.”

“High-level officials are implicated in this corruption, especially for big public tenders, and particularly in key sectors such as mining or the privatization of public companies,” adds president of local NGO and devout defender of integrity in public affairs, Faustin Ndikumana, “The rules are broken very often.”

A perfect example of this is the fact that the Bujumbura port’s concession rights were just awarded – to everyone’s surprise – to a company that is still in the process of being created.

In the east of Burundi, gold and other minerals are being trafficked with alleged help from high-ranking police officials.

Caught red-handed

On the other hand, low-level corruption isn’t as widespread in Burundi as everywhere else in Eastern Africa. In this domain Burundi ranks second-less corrupted country behind Rwanda, according to the 2012 East African Bribery Index.

The police and the judiciary are the most corrupt, but there has been much improvement in this sector. “This is thanks to NGOs, community organizations, and news coverage targeting low-level bribery,” explains Severin Nahayo, a university professor. “When a policeman who asks $2 to let a reckless driver go is shamed in public, he will think twice next time. Same for the judge who is caught red-handed asking for a bribe.”

Meanwhile, the government has undertaken a number of reforms to attract investors to Burundi. “Now, you only need $30 to start your own company, and it only takes a day. This increases fiscal revenues and creates new jobs,” says second Vice-President Gervais Rufyikiri.

Despite recurring complaints from business owners regarding slow border trade, there have undeniably been major improvements.

In particular, there was the creation of a one-stop-shop for business registration; the electricity installation process was reduced from 188 to 30 days; a shortened waiting period was introduced for import-exports; and the national water company monopoly was cancelled. These measures have started attracting investors. “The legal environment is much better than it was, but we are still in a wait-and-see period,” says Opulent group CEO Ayaz Ali Jivrai, who has decided to build a luxury hotel in Bujumbura.

Insecurity is the other reason why investors are still reluctant to come to Burundi. According to economist Andre Muhimpundi, “for investors, nothing is worse than political or social tensions, which could turn into civil war at the drop of a hat.” Reforms are good but peace and transparency in transactions remains the sine qua non condition for healthy economic development.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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