Comparing Factors That Lead to Underdevelopment: Burundi & Somalia

What do we know about such countries like Burundi and Somalia? Before research of this issue, I knew just several facts about these less developed countries. The first fact deals with location and country’s pride. This country is located in East Africa. Turning to the question of a country’s pride, Burundi was the first developing country, which won an Olympic gold medal. Venuste Niyongabo won this medal for his country in the 5000-meter race.

The last one enlightened me about the challenges of the local population. The majority of people do not have money for food, clothes, medical services, and education. That is all I knew about Burundi till today. Somalia is already a completely different story. It seems that almost everyone has heard about Somali pirates, who capture vessels, primarily for ransom.

This country is perilous for tourists. My desire and need to learn more about Burundi and Somalia opened my eyes to certain things. Here is what I have figured out. Burundi gained its independence from Belgium in 1962, while Somalia gained it in 1960. Burundi’s first democratically-elected President was assassinated in October 1993 after only 100 days in office.

Pierre Nkurunziza was elected President in 2005 and 2010 and again in a controversial election in 2015. Burundi continues to face many political and economic challenges. Burundi has the equatorial climate, unlike Somalia with its tropical climate, where temperatures surpass 45 degrees. Average annual temperature varies with altitude from 23 to 17 degrees.

Burundi has two wet seasons (February to May and September to November), and two dry seasons (June to August and December to January). This land is rich in natural resources – nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum, vanadium, arable land, hydropower, niobium, tantalum, gold, tin, tungsten, kaolin, limestone.

Burundi is densely populated, most Burundians live on farms near areas of fertile volcanic soil. The population is 11,466,756 people. About 90% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture. Subdivision of land to sons, and redistribution to returning refugees results in smaller, overworked, and less productive plots.

Food shortages, poverty, and a lack of clean water contribute to a 60% chronic malnutrition rate among children. A lack of reproductive health services has prevented a significant reduction in Burundi’s maternal mortality and fertility rates, which are both among the world’s highest. Historically, migration flows into and out of Burundi have consisted overwhelmingly of refugees from violent conflicts.

In the last decade, more than a half million Burundian refugees returned home from neighboring countries, mainly Tanzania. Reintegrating the returnees has been problematic due to their prolonged time in exile, land scarcity, poor infrastructure, poverty, and unemployment. Repatriates and existing residents (including internally displaced persons) compete for limited land and other resources.

To further complicate matters, international aid organizations reduced their assistance because they no longer classified Burundi as a post-conflict country. Conditions have deteriorated since renewed violence erupted in April 2015, causing another outpouring of refugees.

In addition to refugee out-migration, Burundi has hosted thousands of refugees from neighboring countries, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and lesser numbers from Rwanda.

Somalia, as well as Burundi, suffers from poor governance, protracted internal conflict, underdevelopment, economic decline, poverty, social and gender inequality, and environmental degradation. More than 60% of Somalia’s population is younger than 25, and the fertility rate is among the world’s highest at almost six children per woman – a rate that has decreased little since the 1970s.

A lack of educational and job opportunities is a significant source of tension for Somalia’s large youth cohort, making them vulnerable to recruitment by extremist and pirate groups. Somalia has one of the world’s lowest primary school enrollment rates – just over 40% of children are in school – and one of the world’s highest youth unemployment rates.

Life expectancy is low as a result of high infant and maternal mortality rates, the spread of preventable diseases, poor sanitation, chronic malnutrition, and inadequate health services. During the two decades of conflict that followed the fall of the SIAD regime in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled their homes.

Today Somalia is the world’s third highest source country for refugees, after Syria and Afghanistan. Insecurity, drought, floods, food shortages, and a lack of economic opportunities are the driving factors. As of 2016, more than 1.1 million Somali refugees were hosted in the region, mainly in Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda.

Coming back to Burundi, it also should be mentioned that this is a country with an underdeveloped manufacturing sector. Agriculture accounts for over 40% of GDP and employs more than 90% of the population. Burundi’s primary exports are coffee and tea, which account for more than 60% of foreign exchange earnings.

Thus, Burundi’s export earnings – and its ability to pay for imports – rest primarily on favorable weather conditions and international coffee and tea prices, although exports are a relatively small share of GDP. Burundi is heavily dependent on aid from bilateral and multilateral donors.

Foreign aid represented 48% of Burundi’s national income in 2015, one of the highest percentages in Sub-Saharan Africa, but decreased to 33.5% in 2016. Burundi joined the East African Community (EAC) in 2009.  The 1993-2005 civil war resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, forced more than 48,000 refugees into Tanzania, and displaced 140,000 others internally.

Political stability, aid flows, and economic activity improved following the war’s end, but underlying weaknesses – low governmental capacity, a high poverty rate, poor educational levels, a weak legal system, a poor transportation network, and overburdened utilities – have prevented the implementation of planned economic reforms.

Government corruption has also hindered the development of a private sector. The purchasing power of most Burundians has decreased as wage increases have not kept pace with inflation. In 2015, Burundi’s economy suffered from political turmoil, including street protests and an attempted coup, following President Nkurunziza’s controversial announcement that he would run for a third term.

Insecurity and refugee flow to neighboring countries slowed down economic activity, and donors withdrew aid, increasing Burundi’s budget deficit and decreasing hard currency reserves. Real GDP growth dropped precipitously and had yet to recover to pre-conflict levels.

Talking about Somalia’s political issues, we can see that it shows itself as inefficient. Somalia maintains an informal economy based mainly on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, and telecommunications. Somalia’s government cannot collect domestic revenue and external debt – mostly in arrears – was estimated at 93% of GDP in 2014.

Agriculture is the most important sector, which is another common feature of these two LDC’s. Economic activity is estimated to have increased by 2.4% in 2017 because of growth in the agriculture, construction and telecommunications sector. Somalia’s small industrial sector, based on the processing of agricultural products, has mostly been looted and the machinery sold as scrap metal.

In recent years, Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, has witnessed the development of the city’s first gas stations, supermarkets, and airline flights to Turkey since the collapse of central authority in 1991. Mogadishu’s main market offers a variety of goods from food to electronic gadgets. Hotels continue to operate and are supported with private-security militias.

Economic growth has yet to expand outside of Mogadishu and a few regional capitals, and within the city, security concerns dominate business. Telecommunication firms provide wireless services in most major cities and offer the lowest international call rates on the continent.

In summary, I can conclude that Burundi and Somalia have much in common. Residents of these developing countries are nutritionally insecure. The Government is unable to support the needs of its population. Besides, it makes the situation only worse by placing additional restrictions on trade inside the countries and getting caught up in corruption.  

Poor infrastructure, unemployment, lack of job opportunities, drought, floods, food shortages drive people to miserable life in Burundi and Somalia. The European Union should resume the provision of humanitarian assistance to these LDC’s. Governments of these Less Developed Countries should focus on job creation, fight armed violence, political instability, implement educational reform or at least request humanitarian assistance from the international community.

Somalia is a country that exports record number of animals (camels, sheep, goats) and one of the most advanced in Africa regarding mobile phones and internet usage. Investments in these sectors would have a beneficial effect on the country’s economy. They should try to boost the profitability of the agricultural sector in Burundi. The reduction of taxes imposed on emerging entrepreneurs will be a perfect remedy for Burundi’s economy.

The reality is that leaders enrich themselves at the expense of the population,” Hicham El Moussaoui, Moroccan University lecturer said. The fastest way to put an end to poverty is investments in education. However, the most critical aspect of this challenging task is establishing trust, transparency, and cooperation between government and citizens in various sectors like agriculture, health, education, and mass media.

The government should be honest with its public and allow people to contribute in all areas.  People need mechanisms to hold politicians accountable. However, governments may not welcome these efforts at making evidence available to the public; some will consider it incendiary, and attempt to block it.  


Floride Ahitungye and Britney. (2017). Search for common ground blog. “Crisis in Burundi: a development problem”

Neve, E. (2017). “We suffer a lot: why life is so hard in Burundi?”.

Kuo, L. (2017). “Burundi’s political crisis is making one of the poorest countries on earth even worse off.” Quartz Africa.

BBC News. (2018) Burundi country profile.

Ekkanath, S. (2017). “Causes of Poverty in Burundi.”Borgen Magazine.

Ahmed, I. (2017). “Somalia Partnership Forum stresses job creation and poverty reduction to promote stability.” UN News.

Nairobi, J.I. (2012) “How do you solve a problem like Somalia?”. The Economist.

Mapango, J. (2018). Kennesaw State University. “Poverty Reduction in Burundi: A Case Study of the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid”

Conway, G. (2018) “In Somalia, seeking to ensure drought never again turns into famine.” United Nations Development Programme.–humanitarian-and-development-solutions-seek-to-ensur.html

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