Crisis as fuel becomes rare commodity in Burundi

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Once again, fuel has become a rare commodity in Burundi as the country grapples with a political crisis that remains unresolved for years now.

Starting on Monday, several petrol stations in the capital Bujumbura and other towns across the country had no gasoline or oil.

According to SOS Médias Burundi, only a few stations were in service making vehicles to wait in long lines.

They are overwhelmed by a high number of applicants, especially at station Mogas of Nyakabiga.

The government had announced that the problem linked to the shortage of fuel was settled.

On Wednesday, the organisation Word and Actions for the Revival of Consciousness and the Evolution of Minds (PARCEM) asked government to find an urgent reply to the shortage of fuel.

The Legal Representative of this organisation, Faustin Ndikumana, requested the council of ministers to meet in an emergency to give the guidelines on the management of this shortage.

He said the problem has damaged two big foreign investors, Kenya’s KenolKobil and South Africa’s Engen, a subsidiary of Malaysian parastatal Petronas.

The shortages, which forced the government to introduce rationing on May 16, have paralyzed commerce and caused food prices to jump by around a third, raising the prospect of a wave of economic migration.

More than 400,000 people have already fled Burundi into the volatile central African region.

Anti-corruption campaigners said the fuel shortages became severe after Burundian company Interpetrol Trading Ltd. received the lions’ share of dollars that are allocated by the central bank to import fuel.

“The oil sector is undermined by favoritism and lack of transparency, because the rare hard currency available in the central bank reserves is given to one oil importer,” said Gabriel Rufyiri, head of anti-graft organisation OLUCOME.

Interpetrol’s lawyer, Sylvestre Banzubaze, said: “I am not associated with the day-to-day operations and only intervene on legal questions. You should address your questions directly to Interpetrol sources.”

He did not respond when asked for further contacts, and the company does not have a website.

Rufyiri said that government sources told him that the bulk of dollars for fuel purchasing had been allocated to Interpetrol since March this year.

Earlier this month, South African petrol company Engen confirmed it had sold its assets in Burundi to Interpetrol.

Engen declined to comment further. KenolKobil also declined to comment, but Burundian citizens say most of their petrol stations have been closed for three months.

Government officials blame dollar shortages on aid cuts that donors imposed after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, triggering a wave of political violence.

“These days, fuel importers don’t get enough dollars to bring petroleum products,” said Daniel Mpitabakana, the government’s director of fuel management.

Burundi’s economy shrank by 0.5 percent last year, and the International Monetary Fund expects no growth at all this year and 0.1 percent next year.

Black market prices for fuel range between 5,000 to 6,000 Burundi francs per liter, vendors said, double the official price of 2,200 francs.

The street exchange rate is 2,600 francs to the dollar, although it is just over 1,700 to the dollar at the central bank. Only the central bank can receive dollar deposits and allocate dollars to businesses.

Burundi has also been battered by drought and almost two years of political instability. Hundreds of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee abroad during the political violence, which still sometimes erupts in low-level clashes.

Almost 3 million of Burundi’s 11 million citizens are dependent on food aid, the U.N. says.

Additional reporting by Reuters