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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Burundi 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Burundi at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel to the country due to crime and armed conflict.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

There are ongoing political tensions in Burundi, and there has been sporadic violence throughout the country, including gunfire and regular grenade attacks; attribution and motivation behind these attacks is often unclear. Police and military checkpoints are common and can restrict freedom of movement. Police have searched the homes of private citizens as part of larger weapons searches.

Review OSAC’s Burundi-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

There is considerable risk from crime in Bujumbura. Overall, Westerners are unlikely to be specific targets of attack, although “wrong time, wrong place” scenarios still exist. Travelers are much more likely to be injured in a traffic accident than by an incident of crime.

Violent crimes, such as grenade attacks and armed robberies, are common. Local police lack the resources and training to respond effectively to serious and routine crimes.

Cybersecurity Issues

There is an overall lack of sophisticated technological and counterfeiting skills. The police have almost no capability to investigate these types of crimes when they do occur.

Other Areas of Concern

The provinces of Cibitoke and Bubanza are vulnerable to cross-border raids by armed groups from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where violent clashes continue. The borders may close without notice.

It is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, military installations, and key infrastructure such as airports and border controls. Authorities could detain, arrest, or fine you, and confiscate your equipment. Do not take photos of Burundians without their permission. For more information, see OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don'ts for Photography.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travelers are much more likely to be injured in a traffic accident than by an incident of crime or political violence. Emergency rescue and quality medical care are not readily available, contributing to a high traffic accident mortality rate. For travel outside of Bujumbura, the U.S. Embassy requires employees to travel during daylight hours (roughly 0600-1800) with first-aid and communication equipment. The Embassy prohibits employee travel outside major towns between 1800-0600, and discourages it altogether.

With the exception of several major roads within Bujumbura, and the national roads that crisscross the country, most roads do not meet U.S. standards. There is very little street lighting, especially outside of Bujumbura. Large potholes are common on all roads and require close attention; it is common for drivers to veer into oncoming traffic to go around them. Most non-highway roads outside the capital are narrow and in poor condition, and can be especially precarious due to steep terrain and inconsistent or non-existent paving. During the rainy season (February to May), these unpaved roads can be slippery and quite treacherous. 

Traffic laws exist but are inconsistently enforced and are followed only sporadically. The majority of drivers are inexperienced and/or not properly trained. Pedestrians often ignore sidewalks and will walk in the road or the center median (when one exists), while motorcycles, bicycles (with passengers), slower-speed “tuk-tuk” three-wheeled minicabs, and pedestrians use both sides of the road and present a constant danger. Approximately two-thirds of all vehicles are right-side drive, although the country is officially a left-side drive country.  Drivers often travel at very high rates of speed even though they do not have full visibility, including overloaded and poorly maintained trucks, increasing the risk to all on the road, especially when turning or passing into oncoming traffic up hills and around curves.    

An international driving permit and third-party insurance is required. Long-term residents can apply for a Burundi driver’s license. Use of cell phones while driving is illegal. Give buses and taxis a wide berth as they start and stop abruptly, often without pulling to the side of the road.

In the case of an accident, call and attempt to have police respond. If a hostile mob forms or you feel your safety is in danger, leave the scene and proceed to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident. Do not stop at the scene of an accident in which you are not involved.

Anticipate and plan for potential mechanical problems, and incorporate extra time to address problems in order to be off the roads before dark. Is it not uncommon to see cars being repaired on the side of the road without appropriate jacks and/or blocks to ensure they will not roll away. Drivers often place branches in the roadway to alert other drivers to a roadside repair ahead.

Roadblocks placed by armed police and other security personnel are common throughout the country, particularly at night, at major intersections to the national roads away from Bujumbura and near river crossings. Officers conduct sobriety, paperwork, and vehicle inspections, looking for weapons/criminals. It is not uncommon for officials to request bribes. Travelers have reported harassment, bribe solicitation, intimidation, and (rarely) physical violence at roadblocks, especially during heightened security situations.When at a checkpoint, obey the officer’s instructions and never try to push through or disregard the checkpoint altogether.

Temporary, unannounced road closures are common when high-level government officials travel, and include a heavy police presence that stops all traffic (vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle) in both directions. Stoppages can last up to an hour, depending on traffic.

For more information, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation Conditions

Local transportation is poorly regulated and poorly maintained, with drivers often disregarding the most basic safety driving practices. Combined with treacherous road conditions and vehicles that don’t meet safety standards, using local public transportation is extremely risky. armed groups have targeted public transportation for crime, enabled by overcrowding. As a result, the U.S. Embassy prohibits its U.S. employees from using public transportation, and generally discourages its use.

Hire private transport from a reliable source. If you use a taxi, negotiate the fare before beginning your journey. Taxis are not metered, so confirm with your hotel what fare to expect.

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Burundi, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Burundi’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization aviation safety standards.

Terrorism Threat

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Bujumbura.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab continues to threaten attacks in Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya in retaliation for their participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Following al-Shabaab’s 2010 attack in Uganda, and three high-profile attacks in Kenya in 2013, 2015, and 2019, the Government of Burundi and the international community remain concerned that Burundi continues to be a target.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

There is little direct anti-U.S. sentiment in Burundi. Terror attacks may target U.S. interests due to U.S. support of AMISOM. The Burundian government has issued a series of statements against several European countries and UN offices, and is paying closer attention to foreigners entering Burundi.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Bujumbura. Following the turmoil of 2015 and 2016, overt, violent security operations in Bujumbura markedly decreased in 2017 and 2018. Violence, some undoubtedly political, persists, while overall the security situation has continued to stabilize. Grenade attacks continue, as do sporadic armed attacks along the DRC frontier. Reported cases of torture, extrajudicial execution, and enforced disappearance remain. These issues, as well as the deteriorating economic situation and dire food shortages in some parts of the country, led many Burundians to flee between 2015 and 2017, with a smaller number leaving in 2018. While over 50,000 refugees have returned through a formal, UN-supported process, approximately 370,000 Burundian refugees remain in Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and eastern DRC.

Civil Unrest

All public gatherings require government pre-approval. Only pro-government marches and protests have taken place since mid-2016. Participants of government-sponsored protests are often paid or forced to attend. Avoid large crowds, public gatherings, and demonstrations.

Relations between Burundi and Rwanda are tense, and there is a risk of cross-border incursions and armed clashes. International borders may close without notice. Grenades and small arms may be used.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Sensitivities related to ethnicity exist, although the violence that can appear to be ethnic in nature may also be politically or personally motivated. Reports of continuing arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearance, and human rights violations continue. Government officials often deny these reports.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Burundi is a mountainous, land-locked country; it is common for heavy rains to disrupt and present hazards to roadways. Extended downpours during the rainy season (the major rainy season is from February to May, with a minor one between September and November) have caused mudslides, resulting in property damage and washed out roads and highways.

While earthquakes are infrequent, Bujumbura is located close to an active fault line that could result in a large-magnitude earthquake. A general lack of infrastructure is consistent across the country, and a natural distaster could render what little there is completely unusable. Given limited response capabilities, considered any natural disaster a significantly dangerous situation.

Personal Identity Concerns

Sexual and domestic violence, including rape, is a widespread problem. In some cases, police and magistrates require victims to pay the costs of incarceration for the perpetrator. Center Seruka and Center Nturengaho provide shelter and counseling to victims of rape and domestic violence. Several international NGOs provide free medical care for victims, mostly in urban areas.

Burundian law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment of three months to two years. Prosecutions are rare, but authorities have detained people based on their perceived sexual orientation. Refer to the Department of State’s LGBTI Travel Information page and section 6 of Burundi’s Human Rights report for further details.

Handicap access to transportation, lodging, and public buildings is limited. There are few sidewalks and no curb-cuts. Most buildings lack functioning elevators.

Authorities may closely scrutinize and occasionally detain Rwandan citizens and individuals entering Burundi from Rwanda. 

Drug-related Crimes

Many petty crimes are committed by criminals under the influence of drugs, usually marijuana or alcohol. Burundi is a known transit point for drugs trafficked to Europe.

Police Response

Due to a lack of training and resources, the Burundian National Police finds it challenging to conduct traditional police responsibilities (e.g. dealing with traffic accidents, responding to an emergency at a residence). The investigative capacity of Burundian law enforcement is limited.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Security forces routinely search vehicles and homes (including those of foreigners and U.S. citizens). Residential searches are allowed between 0600-1800; police must present identification and a warrant. Report improper searches to the U.S. Embassy. If Burundian National Police detain or harass a U.S. citizen, identify yourself as such and immediately contact the U.S. Embassy.

Crime Victim Assistance

Bujumbura’s emergency number is 112. However, it is best to report a crime in person. The police may not investigate or adjudicate crime – especially theft. If a U.S. citizen is the victim of a serious crime, contact the police and the Consular section of the U.S. Embassy at: (257) 22-207-225. U.S. citizen victims of sexual assault or domestic violence should first contact the U.S. Embassy.

Police/Security Agencies

The Burundian National Police fall under the authority of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security. They are in charge of security and law enforcement. They maintain order in the country, secure its borders, and conduct investigations.

The Burundian National Defense Force (BNDF) defends the country against exterior invasion and protects critical infrastructure. It can also assist the police with logistics and specialized skills that they may not have. The BNDF is under the authority of the Ministry of Defense.

The Service National de Renseignement (SNR) is in charge of intelligence. The mission of the SNR is to gather and analyze threats against the president and the country, and is primarily domestically-focused. The SNR operates under the authority of the president.

Medical Emergencies

Medical services are very limited, and ambulance services are virtually nonexistent. The most common medical emergencies are the result of motor vehicle accidents and infectious disease. The level of medical services is significantly below U.S. standards. Ambulance services are limited and unreliable. No facility provide sadvanced cardiac or high-level trauma care. Purchase a medical evacuation (medevac) insurance plan prior to arrival that offers coverage in the region.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

U.S. citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance in facilitating a medical evacuation or medical attention.

Insurance Guidance

Strongly consider private medical evacuation insurance. Most medical issues will require evacuation to a neighboring country. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Power outages occur frequently and may affect public services such as access to potable water. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Malaria is endemic; use anti-malarial prophylaxis and CDC-recommended mosquito repellents; sleep with mosquito nets.

Food and water-borne illnesses are common.

The following diseases are prevalent: Chikungunya, Hepatitis A, Schistosomiasis, Typhoid, Yellow fever, and Zika.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Burundi.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Bujumbura meets biannually. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

No. 50 Avenue Des Etats Unis, 110-01-02, Bujumbura, Burundi

Consular Section Hours (General): Monday-Thursday 0730-1715 and Friday 0730-1230

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: (257) 2220-7000

Marine Security Guard (24x7): (257) 2220-7318

Embassy Duty Officer (24x7): (257) 7993-8841

Website: http://bi.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. Embassy Bujumbura strongly recommends that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Burundi enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. Embassy to contact you in an emergency. If you do not have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Additional Resource: Burundi Country Information Sheet

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