The AfDB in Burundi: Evaluation of a Country in Turmoil

09/03/2017
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The Independent Development Evaluation (IDEV) of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has published a report which evaluates the impact of US $739 million of AfDB support for development in Burundi. Evaluators manoeuvred within a difficult context marked by five years of political and economic turmoil.

The Burundi Country Strategy and Program Evaluation by IDEV seeks to ascertain the effectiveness of the African Development Bank’s strategy and program in the country during the 2004–2015 period. Burundi was one of the 14 countries selected for assessment of the performance of AfDB interventions in IDEV’s Comprehensive Evaluation of Development Results, the largest evaluation undertaken in the 50-year history of the AfDB. Special attention was paid to Burundi’s context of fragility and the impact of this on AfDB strategies.

On economic performance, the IDEV report finds that the main contribution of AfDB operations to growth was through infrastructure projects. Additionally, there was positive evolution in mobility, transport costs and access to electricity. However, their impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction remained limited in a context marked by severe internal and external constraints. The low diversification of the economy limited the country’s export capacity and hindered domestic and cross-border trade. Internal constraints, especially those related to fiscal, legal, economic and political instability, posed serious threats. At the outcome, the signs of a sustainable increase in economic activity and incomes in the long term are barely visible.

The evaluation presents a series of recommendations for the future AfDB engagement strategy in Burundi. Focus, according to IDEV, should be on the development of economic activities which promote integrated markets within the East African Community. An economic growth strategy should be accompanied by actions aiming at reducing vulnerability through inclusion and resilience to climate change. The AfDB should provide budget support, ensuring the economic and financial viability of investment policies implemented by the Government, and coordinate investment projects financed with internal and external resources. Finally, IDEV recommends that the AfDB revive dialogue with the Burundian government on governance and public finance management as well as private sector development issues, and advises the setting up of a monitoring and evaluation system.

AfDB Management welcomes the recommendations by IDEV, affirming that the Bank will apply a “fragility lens” to the ongoing Country Strategy Paper and the new 2018–22 CSP, in order to better respond to fragility situations and fight against the socio-economic impact of the crisis. The Bank does not intervene directly on political issues, but can contribute to the peace building process and reconstruction through strategic dialogue, partnership and advocacy on issues of fragility, and through the deployment of resources from Pillar III of the Transition Support Facility and Trust Funds. Responding to IDEV findings, AfDB management vows to “Continue the dialogue on maintaining macroeconomic and especially macro-fiscal stability, as well as on the sustainability of policies and the reform of public financial management and of strengthening economic governance.

The evaluation context.

The AfDB is one of Burundi’s key partners. According to OECD data, the AfDB occupied the fourth position among the top donors (excluding the IMF) in terms of volume of assistance given to Burundi during the period, behind the World Bank Group, the European Union and Belgium. It played a significant role in reviving cooperation and normalizing relations with international partners, particularly by mobilizing the Second Pillar of the Fragile States Facility, clearing the arrears owed to the Bank, and paving the way for debt relief by the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative in August 2005. Between 2005 and 2010, the country had undertaken social and economic reforms and succeeded in strengthening the framework for international assistance. Progress had also been made in public finance management, and there were attempts to define strategies for infrastructure, private sector development, education and health. After 2010, the pace of reforms slowed down, strategies were not fully implemented, and coordination weakened. Corruption significantly hindered development programs and projects in Burundi. The Worldwide Governance Indicators of 2012 ranked Burundi 51st out of 54 countries in Africa on its performance to curtail corruption.

Rakesh Nangia, Evaluator General at the AfDB, said, “The context of fragility in Burundi presented numerous challenges for an evaluation team. IDEV is committed to achieving reliable and comprehensive reports on development progress and is mandated to deploy any innovative process necessary to achieve their goals”.

The IDEV approach in Burundi

The evaluation team was faced with three major challenges in collecting reliable data at country level. Firstly, the political crisis and ensuing violence impeded scheduled field visits, making it difficult to collect data and documents and meet program stakeholders. Secondly, the team progressively discovered grey areas in the implementation of programs, where data on development outcomes was either unavailable or where an under-current of self-interest biased the responses. Finally, the prevalence of fragility challenged the evaluators in predicting the sustainability of development outcomes, which will largely depend on the Government’s capacity to maintain stability.

The IDEV evaluation team responded to the challenges by finding alternative ways of obtaining the quantity and quality of data required to produce the report. A preliminary country visit by evaluators took place in April 2015 with the primary aim of gaining buy-in from the Burundi government stakeholders. During the mission, the team collected as much data as possible from files stored locally on computers in the offices of government departments. They also conducted face to face interviews with government ministers, local authorities, private sector organisations and development partners.

IDEV evaluators deemed it necessary to return to Burundi, but the violent demonstrations in the capital ensuing from election campaigns prevented a second scheduled visit. They continued to pursue their information gathering remotely, organizing video-conferencing and telephone interviews with Burundi project leaders during a three-day intensive workshop in Abidjan in November 2015.

Towards the end of the year, the evaluators had compiled sufficient data, complemented by the study of evaluations by partners and other institutions, in order to analyse the fifteen selected AfDB projects, with the exception of the agriculture and water infrastructure sectors. Burundian independent evaluation experts were recruited to visit two operations in these domains in December 2015.

Triangulation of the findings of these multiple sources of information produced the project results assessment reports on which the evaluation, the conclusion and recommendations of the report are based. Sustainability calculations were however based on predictions, due to the weak resources and capacity of Burundian maintenance structures noted by the mission.