News has emerged from Burundi that the government, seeking to create much-needed jobs, is considering offering mining concessions for precious/semi precious stones and nickel in an area earmarked previously for tourism and conservation purposes.
In fact, the Burundi government, some 20 years ago, uprooted over 3,000 families from the 50,000 + hectare area in question to create a game reserve, but the ongoing civil war at the time, did not allow tourist visitors from abroad to travel to the area, nor in fact visit the country for fear of their safety.
The government of today, therefore, will find it hard to explain the turnabout, as only weeks ago commitments were made to make tourism a big part of the newly emerging Burundian economy.
While foreign companies are offering immediate payments, preferred by the bureaucrats in the finance ministry, tourism would arguably be able to produce as many if not more jobs over a period of time and trigger a constant inflow of foreign exchange and foreign direct investment into the country without having to destroy natural resources in an unsustainable fashion, as is now proposed.
It is expected that the proactive Eastern African conservation fraternity will begin to raise the matter in regional and international foray and exert pressure on the government in Bujumbura to drop the contentious plans.
The conservation and green lobby did manage to put the brakes on a hair-brained scheme in Tanzania to build a mineral extraction plant at Lake Natron last year, and emboldened by their success, will not shy away from another “good battle” to save East Africa’s threatened biodiversity.
The Republic of Burundi, as it is officially called, is a small country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the south and east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west.