BURUNDI President Pierre Nkurunziza suspended a $200 million building contract awarded to a Chinese company to ward off potential protests over alleged corruption as the country prepares to hold elections, his spokesman said.
Sino-African Trading and Investment Initiative Co. plans to build a shopping mall in the capital, Bujumbura, on the site of the city’s main market that burned down two years ago, according to a statement published on the Burundian presidency’s website on February 4.
Civil society organisations oppose the deal because there was no international tender for the project, Gabriel Rufyiri, head of the Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption and Economic Embezzlement, said.
“The president suspended the project with the Chinese company to prevent those who want to demonstrate from disrupting the elections,” Leonidas Hatungimana, Nkurunziza’s spokesman, said in an interview today in Bujumbura.
Burundi is scheduled to hold presidential elections in June in which Nkurunziza has said he would seek a third term in office if the ruling party nominated him. As many as 300 civil society organizations are campaigning against Nkurunziza running, which they say would violate the terms of a peace agreement signed in 2000 that ended more than a decade of civil war.
Sino-African, which is registered in Hong Kong, requested a 50-year concession for the land in Bujumbura in return for payment of 8% of its net income, the presidency said last month. More than 1,500 women’s associations, labor unions, opposition and civil society groups have threatened to strike unless the deal is canceled, Rufyiri said.
A delegation of civil society and labor-union leaders met Chinese Embassy officials on March 3 to discuss their concerns, Rufyiri said.
“We informed the staff in the embassy that the country’s reputation was being blackened by some companies that use corruption to work in Burundi and which are linked to corrupted authorities,” Rufyiri said. Sino-African didn’t respond to two e-mails sent by Bloomberg News requesting comment.
Nkurunziza, 51, came to power in Burundi in 2005 after leading a faction of the rebel National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy during the civil war that killed 300,000 people. He hasn’t said whether he’ll seek to remain in office.