International aid groups divided over Burundi’s ethnic quotas.

After Burundi government took the decision to close down some foreign NGOs accused of imbalance when it comes to respecting ethnic quotas in recruitment and opportunities, the aid community in Burundi is split over the government’s demand for international NGOs to disclose the ethnic breakdown of its local staff, as uncertainty over which organizations are still eligible to operate in the country.

Part of Bujumbura town

Burundi’s government sought to enforce a 2017 law requiring that foreign NGOs’ local staff represent a ratio of 60 percent Hutus and 40 percent Tutsis’. It is the same ratio that has been required of public offices for more than a decade under the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

International organizations working in Burundi were told by the government to provide information on the ethnic mix of local staff.

Around 10 groups, including Handicap International, left the country rather than comply. Others, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, have not had their reregistration confirmed after also refusing to meet the requirement, though they are still working in Burundi where about 3.6 million people, or a third of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Donors divided over the ethnic quotas requirement.

Devex magazine reports its own sources that some international aid donors in Burundi are divided over this ethnic quota requirement.

Sources told Devex that NGOs funded by the United States, encouraged by the U.S. aid agency, were more likely to provide ethnic percentages than their European counterparts. The U.S. Agency for International Development hs not yet commented on this.

“Most organizations that are based in the U.S. or financed by the U.S. were told basically that ‘for us, positive discrimination is not a problem — you do anything to get yourself reauthorized again,’” a European diplomat in Burundi said.

By contrast, Devex reports that some European-based NGOs are instructed not to ‘give their ethnic identities to the Burundi government’.

The diplomat told Devex that some European governments warned their international NGOs they would likely no longer be considered for future contracts in Burundi if they provided authorities with ethnic information.

As devex notes, a spokesperson for the Belgian foreign ministry said it had made clear to the roughly 20 Belgian NGOs it supports that providing ethnic information at an individualized level would be a red line. None of them crossed it.

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