Given its high population density and the low penetration rates across all telecom sectors, Burundi remains one of the most attractive telecom markets in Africa for investors. Nevertheless, investor reticence is still evident given the country’s low economic output and the fact that outside the main urban areas fixed-line infrastructure remains poor.
The Internet penetration rate was 5.2% in 2017. Since 2012 Burundi has had improved access to international cables, thus ending its dependence on expensive satellite connections. International bandwidth tripled in 2015, resulting in lower retail prices for consumers. There have also been efforts to encourage the country’s ISPs to join the national IXP in a bid to cannel internet traffic locally and thus reduce the cost of providing services to end-users.
Two of the four mobile operators have launched 3G and LTE mobile services to capitalise on the growing demand for internet access. A new player launched 2G and 3G services in June 2015 and LTE services in February 2016. Operators have built up an extensive fibre-backhaul network aiming at providing also fixed-line services. These developments make Burundi one of the most attractive growth markets in Africa, despite the limited size of the population. The Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Télécommunications (ARCT) is devoted to ensuring control and regulation of the telecoms sector in Burundi.
Burundi is a landlocked, resource-poor 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.
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.
Econet is a privately held diversified telecommunications group with operations and investments in Africa, Europe, South America, North America and the East Asia Pacific Rim, offering products and services in the core areas of mobile and fixed telephony services, broadband, internet, satellite and fibre optic networks. The company also has investments beyond the traditional telecoms sector, which include financial services, insurance, e-commerce, renewable energy, education, hospitality and payment gateway solutions. Econet Wireless merged with u-com Burundi S. A, operating under the trademark Leo, to create the largest company of telecommunications in Burundi.