Burundi businesses say shortage of dollars is hurting imports

A shortage of foreign currency in Burundi is starting to disrupt businesses and forcing companies to delay imports from neighboring East African countries, the head of a local commerce lobby group said.

Central-bank supplies of dollars are proving inadequate, compelling companies into the black market, where the cost of greenbacks — when they are available — has jumped by about 25 percent in a fortnight, said Cyriaque Ndayishimiye, leader of the Burundi Traders Union.

“When one goes to the black market to get foreign currencies, it is impossible,” Ndayishimiye said in an interview in the capital, Bujumbura. “The prices set by the central bank are not respected because there’s not enough currency.” The black-market rate for dollars in the city has climbed to 2,700 Burundi francs from 2,050 within two weeks, he said. The official rate is 1,661 per dollar.

Central bank Governor Jean Ciza acknowledged the foreign-exchange shortage this week and Burundi Vice President Joseph Butore said exporters should think of new ways to earn hard currency. The bank is prioritizing dollar allocations to importers of medicine, fuel and fertilizer, he told a meeting of exchange-bureau operators. The bank made $18 million available this week in an effort to meet demand.

The landlocked, coffee-exporting nation has a gross domestic product of about $3.09 billion. It has been rocked by violence that’s killed more than 470 people since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to stand for re-election, a move his opponents said was unconstitutional.

The central bank this year ordered banks, non-government organizations and embassies to open accounts with it to regulate foreign-exchange supplies. The measure has failed to prevent shortages, and some importers have suspended operations, Ndayishimiye said.

“There are times where a trader can wait six months for currency,” Ndayishimiye said. “Imagine six months without good work.”