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Safety Travel Safety: Africa: Burundi

Burundi: Republic of Burundi
Capital: Bujumbura
Population: 6,373,002
Currency: Burundi franc (BIF)
Languages: Kirundi (official), French (official), Swahili (along Lake Tanganyika and in the Bujumbura area)
Religions: Christian 67% (Roman Catholic 62%, Protestant 5%), indigenous beliefs 23%, Muslim 10%
Borders: Democratic Republic of the Congo 233 km, Rwanda 290 km, Tanzania 451 km

Burundi is a small, inland African nation that entered a period of instability following the assassination of Burundi's first democratically elected president in 1993. A three-year transitional government was established on November 1, 2001. While the Government has concluded cease-fire agreements with three of the four rebel groups, hostilities continue with the fourth. Fighting between the government and rebels occurs frequently. Facilities for tourism, particularly outside the capital, are limited. The capital is Bujumbura. The official language is French.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Burundi. Americans in Burundi are urged to exercise caution and maintain security awareness at all times. Due to continuing hostilities between government and rebel forces, including danger on the road to and from Bujumbura's airport, and the requirement to observe curfew hours, the U.S. Embassy restricts U.S. Government personnel from flying in or out of Bujumbura during the hours of darkness.

In light of continuing political tensions, all areas of Burundi are potentially unstable. Fighting between rebel forces and the Burundian military continues to be a problem in the interior and in the outskirts of the capital. Burundian rebels regularly attack the outlying suburbs of Bujumbura and vehicles on the roadways. Throughout the early months of 2003, major clashes between government forces and rebels occurred repeatedly just outside the capital. In July 2003, the U.S. Embassy temporarily evacuated non-emergency staff after sustained rebel attacks on Bujumbura. Rebels continue to operate in the province surrounding the capital. Rebel forces have launched several rocket and mortar attacks on the city, and local authorities are unable to guarantee safety. The U.S. Embassy emphasizes the importance of remaining vigilant and respecting any curfews in effect. A nationwide curfew is in place. For the most up-to-date curfew information, please check with the U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura. Given the ongoing insecurity, travelers should also check with the U.S. Embassy before traveling out of the capital.

Crime poses a high risk for visitors throughout Bujumbura and Burundi in general. Street crime includes muggings, purse-snatching, pick-pocketing, burglary, auto break-ins, and carjackings. As the economy continues on a downward spiral, large numbers of unemployed, illiterate men armed with automatic weapons roam the country committing robberies and murders on a weekly, often nightly, basis. The roads leading out of Bujumbura are often the location for armed ambushes; these types of violent attack occur frequently. Criminals in Bujumbura operate in pairs or in small groups involving six or more individuals. Foreigners are always a potential target of crime, whether in vehicles or at home. There is also the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a rebel shelling or during crossfire while armed groups combat each other.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Burundian law, even unknowingly, may be deported, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Burundi are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the U.S., for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means, or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.

Medical facilities are limited in Burundi. Medicines and prescription drugs are in short supply, if not completely unavailable. Sterility of equipment is questionable, and treatment is unreliable. Travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter driving conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning driving in Burundi is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor/Not Recommended 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor 
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Non-existent

Drivers without drivers' licenses, and the ease with which a driver's license can be acquired without training, make Burundian drivers less than careful, considerate, or predictable.

There are no traffic signals or signs in Bujumbura, and virtually nothing of the kind elsewhere in the country. Roadways are not marked, and the lack of streetlights and shoulders make driving in the countryside at night especially dangerous. Additionally, drivers may encounter cyclists, pedestrians, and livestock in the roadway, including in and around the capital, Bujumbura. Mini-vans used as buses for 18 persons should be given a wide berth as they start and stop abruptly, often without pulling to the side of the road.

Big holes or damaged portions of roadway may be encountered anywhere in the country, including in and around the capital; when driving in the countryside, it is recommended that travelers carry multiple spare tires. Service stations are rare outside of major cities. During the rainy season, many side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles.

Travelers may be stopped at police roadblocks throughout the country, or shot at and stopped by rebels or bandits.

Third-party insurance is required, and it will cover any damages (property, injury, or death). If you are found to have caused an accident, you automatically will be fined 10,000 Burundian francs (approximately $10 U.S.) and your driver's license will be confiscated until the police investigation is completed. Although the law provides for the arrest of drunk drivers, in practice, the police do not consider drunk driving a crime. In the city of Bujumbura, the number for police assistance is 22-37-77; there is no comparable number outside the capital. If you are involved in an accident causing death, it is advised that you leave the scene of the accident and proceed to the nearest police station. In most cases, other drivers will assist you. Ambulance assistance is non-existent.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

As a result of an attack on a Sabena passenger flight at night and the danger of attack on the road to and from the airport at night because of the ongoing conflict between government and rebel forces in Burundi, the U.S. Embassy continues to restrict U.S. Government personnel from flying in or out of Bujumbura during the hours of darkness or during the Embassy's curfew hours. The curfew changes from time to time due to changing security conditions; please contact the U.S. Embassy for the most up-to-date curfew information.

As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Burundi at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Burundian Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Burundi's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Burundi and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

April 9, 2004 | Travel Warning

Africa | Safety |

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