There is cautious optimism in Rwanda as result of new data showing that even if relations with Burundi are at lowest point they have ever been, Burundians are still consuming a considerable amount of goods from their northern neighbour.
Figures released today in Kigali show that in 2018, exports to Burundi were worth $12 million, compared to $20m before Kigali-Bujumbura relations collapsed. This indicates a more than 40% drop.
While releasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers for the 4th quarter of 2018, Finance and Economic Planning Minister Dr Uzziel Ndagijimana admitted that more had been exported to Burundi than was expected.
Since mid 2015, when a failed coup nearly toppled President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government, not much happens between the two countries. Nkurunziza blames Rwanda. He severed ties completely with Kigali.
It was followed by periods when crowds mobilized by the ruling party CNDD-FDD came to border carrying placards with insults to Rwanda leaders. The Rwandan embassy in Bujumbura was besieged for some days, as loud chanting and music boomed outside.
In July 2016, the Burundian government imposed “export ban” on Rwanda. No goods would be sent to Kigali, and there would be no trade between border communities.
Burundi’s exports at the time included fruits and vegetables, palm oil and silverfish to Rwanda.
As a result, prices soured for these items in markets around Rwanda. For example, a kilogramme of mangoes rose from $1.25 (Rwf1,000) to more than $2.5 (Rwf2,000), and a kilo of oranges rose from $0.5 (Rwf400) to $1.25 (Rwf1,000), according to a compilation by The East African newspaper at the time.
Today, with alternative supplies from Uganda – which may also be inturrupted due to current standoff, the price of mangoes has gone back to between Rwf 800 and Rwf1,2000 per kilo, depending on where you buy.
Silverfish from Burundi (indagala) was another of those delicacies Burundi supplied north. Prices remain high from the time Bujumbura took action.
At the press conference today, data showed that imports from Burundi were about $3.5m last year. Before the spat with Rwanda, imports from Burundi were about $10m.
Speaking today, in response to media querries about of possible negative impact as Rwanda’s relations with neighbours get worse, Rwanda’s Finance Minister Dr Ndagijimana put Burundi’s case together with Uganda.
He said it was Uganda that needs Rwanda most because it exported $240m worth to Rwanda last year, but Kigali only sent about $27m.
“Much of what we import from Uganda like manufacturing materials and from Burundi such as food, can be easily got from elsewhere and even produced locally,” said Ndagijimana.
Rwanda exports Burundi maize, maize flour, wheat flour, cassava flour, potatoes and milk.
Meanwhile, despite all the border challenges that Rwanda is facing in its regional trade, the National Institute of statistics of Rwanda with the Finance Ministry said GDP has grown at 8.6%.
The manufacturing sector is the one contributing much as it grew by 10%, Agriculture grew by 6% and services grew by 9% last year.
Construction activities and the made in Rwanda program especially in textiles helped the industry sector grow at 26% in the fourth quarter starting from December 2018.
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