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Burundi 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Burundi; Africa > Burundi > Bujumbura

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy 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.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BUJUMBURA AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

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

The overall security situation in Burundi is stable, but violent crime and incidents of targeted political violence regularly occur. Poverty, lack of resources, and omnipresent corruption promote criminality that often goes unpunished. 2016 saw a continuation of economic decline. That economic decline, high rates of unemployment, inadequate social services, and political instability will continue to worsen the crime situation.   

Crime Threats

The most common crimes are thefts, highway robberies, and home invasions. The most common weapons used by criminals are AK-47s, grenades, knives, and machetes. Foreigners are often the victims of street crimes.

There are daily incidents of armed robbery that result in serious injury and fatality. Most robberies take place during the hours of darkness and outside the city centers. Additionally, the number of daytime robberies at ATMs, banks, and stores increased compared to 2015. Although the vast majority of robberies did not involve foreigners, criminals have targeted them. Attacks occur during all hours within the confines of central Bujumbura and even in proximity to U.S. Embassy residential areas.

Many police, military, criminals, and demobilized fighters make or supplement their income through robbing and extorting the Burundian population.

Cybersecurity Issues

Credit card and identity theft is rare, and there is an overall lack of sophisticated technological and counterfeiting skills. The police have almost no capability to investigate these types of crimes.

Other Areas of Concern

The Embassy limits non-essential travel to the neighborhoods of Cibitoke, Gasenyi, Kamenge, Kinama, Musaga, Mutakura, and Ngagara. The area near the burnt-down market, on Avenue de Marche, is off-limits to official Americans. Approval by the Regional Security Office is required for any employees traveling outside of Bujumbura. Additionally, official Americans are prohibited from walking outside during hours of darkness. 

The border with the DRC remains an area of concern for criminal activity related to smuggling, particularly of weapons and minerals. Also of concern is the potential for smuggling operations that occur in the countries bordering Lake Tanganyika, as reports indicate a continuation of sporadic cross-border activity by armed opposition groups.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

National highways are in fair to good condition with a few exceptions; most roads in the interior are in poor condition. These roads can be particularly treacherous during the rainy season. The terrain is quite mountainous and takes its toll on older vehicles. Travelers should anticipate mechanical problems and incorporate extra time to address problems and yet be off the roads before dark.

The number of incidences of ambush and highway robbery were similar to that of 2015. Travel outside major towns during the hours of darkness is extremely risky, prohibited for official Americans, and highly discouraged in the Travel Warning. Official Americans are required to travel during daylight hours with first aid and communication equipment for any travel outside of Bujumbura.

Travelers are much more likely to be injured in a traffic accident than by crime or political violence. Emergency rescue and quality medical care are not readily available, which contributes to a high traffic accident mortality rate. Traffic laws exist but are haphazardly enforced and are generally not followed by the majority of drivers. Many drivers are inexperienced and/or not properly trained. Overloaded and poorly maintained trucks present an additional hazard, especially on the steep roads on the outskirts of Bujumbura. Motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians regularly dart into the roadways. These and other hazards complicate driving, making alertness and patience a necessity. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices” and “Road Safety in Africa.”

Police and military checkpoints routinely conduct sobriety, paperwork, and vehicle inspections, looking for weapons/criminals. It is not uncommon for officials to request bribes. If stopped at a checkpoint, drivers should obey instructions of the officer and never try to push through or disregard checkpoints. Temporary road closures are common in the cities and countryside when high-level government officials travel.    

Public Transportation Conditions

Local transportation is poorly regulated and poorly maintained, with drivers disregarding the most basic safety driving practices. Combined with treacherous mountain roads, local public transportation is extremely risky. Fatalities regularly occur as a result of vehicle collisions. Public transportation has been targeted by armed groups, and overcrowding promotes petty crime. As a result, the use of public transportation is highly discouraged, and official Americans are prohibited from using public transportation.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BUJUMBURA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab continues to threaten attacks in Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya for their participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Since al-Shabaab’s July 2010 attack in Uganda, the September 2013 attack at Westgate Mall in Kenya, and the 2015 Garissa University attack in Kenya, the government of Burundi and the international community have been concerned that Burundi may be a prime target. Widespread corruption, extreme poverty, and limited law enforcement capabilities create a vulnerable environment for terrorists to exploit.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

There is little anti-American sentiment in Burundi. U.S. interests may be targeted due to U.S. support of AMISOM. The government has issued a series of statements against several European countries and UN offices. However, due to the current political instability, the government is paying closer attention to foreigners entering Burundi.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BUJUMBURA AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

In April 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run and subsequently won a third presidential term. Many opposition figures believed this was contrary to the 2000 Arusha Agreement. In mid-2015, Bujumbura was the site of almost daily protests, often with violent response by the police, followed by a failed coup d’état. In December 2015, two military bases in Bujumbura were attacked. Burundian military forces repelled the attackers, resulting in multiple deaths and arrests. In the aftermath of the attacks, security forces conducted searches in several neighborhoods, which resulted in the reported deaths of 87 people. Civil society, witnesses, and victims estimated that the actual numbers of deaths may have been anywhere from 150-200; the bodies were taken to unknown destinations. 

Overt, violent security operations in Bujumbura decreased markedly in 2016. However, reported cases of torture, extra-judicial executions, and enforced disappearances remain high. Targeted attacks against government officials, civil society, opposition members, and the media regularly occur.   

These issues, as well as the deteriorating economic situation and dire food shortages in some parts of the country, have led many Burundians to flee. Approximately 395,000 Burundian refugees now live in Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and the eastern DRC.   

Civil Unrest

All public gatherings require pre-approval from the government, and only pro-CNDD-FDD groups receive 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. Visitors are cautioned to avoid large crowds, public gatherings, or demonstrations. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Although not the driving force of violence in 2015, sensitivities related to ethnicity remain. Reports of continuing arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, 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 cause disruption and to present hazards to logistics routes. Extended downpours during the rainy season 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.

Given limited response capabilities, any natural disaster should be considered a dangerous situation.

Privacy Concerns

The lack of technological resources prevents the government from closely monitoring all citizens; their main focus is on members of the opposition and/or political parties.

Personal Identity Concerns

Rwandan citizens are often highly scrutinized and occasionally detained. 

Drug-related Crimes

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

Police Response

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

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If detained or harassed by the Burundian National Police, American citizens should identify themselves as such and immediately contact the U.S. Embassy.

Crime Victim Assistance

Any crime, especially theft, perpetrated against a foreigner is not likely to be investigated or adjudicated. Preventive precautions against crime are the best defense. If a U.S. citizen is the victim of a serious crime, s/he should contact the police and the Consular section of the U.S. Embassy at: (257) 22-207-225

Police/Security Agencies

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

The army 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 army is under the authority of the Ministry of Defense.

The SNR (Service National de Renseignement) 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 is under the authority of the president.

Medical Emergencies

Medical services are very limited, and ambulance services are virtually nonexistent.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

In Bujumbura, the preferred medical facility is Hospital KIRA: +257 22 25 50 00.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance in facilitating a medical evacuation or medical attention.

Insurance Guidance

You are strongly encouraged to contract private medical evacuation insurance, as most medical issues will require evacuation to a neighboring country.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Bujumbura Country Council currently meets twice a year and has approximately 25 members. Please 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): Mondays-Thursday 7:30-18:15 and Fridays 7:30-12:30

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: (257) 22-207-000

Marine Security Guard (24x7): (257) 22-207-318

Embassy Duty Officer (24x7): (257) 79-938-841

Regional Security Office: (257) 22-207-307

Assistant Regional Security Officer: (257) 22-207-265

Medical Unit: (257) 22-207-162

Consular Affairs: (257) 22-207-225

Political Section: (257) 22-207-310

Economic Section: (257) 22-207-264

Website: http://burundi.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 Resources

Burundi Country Information Sheet