Barack Obama has excluded Burundi from a crucial programme providing African countries with tariff-free access to the US market following President Pierre Nkrunziza’s attempt to extend his rule.
The East African country has been barred from the recently renewed African Growth and Opportunity Act amid a continued government crackdown on opposition activists.
A statement from the White House said that the exclusion – due to take effect from 1st January – is a response to the country’s failures to establish the rule of law and political pluralism.
“The continuing crackdown on opposition members, which has included assassinations, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture, have worsened significantly during the election campaign that returned President Nkurinziza to power earlier this year,” said the statement.
Dozens have been killed in recent weeks as the fallout from Nkrunziza’s bid for a third term rumbles on. Regional mediators led by Uganda have been attempting to kickstart efforts to broker a deal between the government and opposition figures, to little effect. According to Reuters, some 198 people have been killed in violence since April.
“The Government of Burundi has blocked opposing parties from holding organisational meetings and campaigning throughout the electoral process. Police and armed youth militias with links to the ruling party have intimidated the opposition, contributing to nearly 200,000 refugees fleeing the country since April 2015,” said the statement.
The decision to exclude Burundi from AGOA is likely to be a further blow to businesses struggling in the impoverished nation. The IMF predicts that Burundi’s economy will shrink 7.2% this year.
AGOA – a Clinton-era piece of legislation that was extended for ten years in June – has been credited with creating some 350,000 direct jobs on the continent in industries as diverse as vehicles, garments and metalwork.
Burundi is not the first country to have been barred for political reasons. The US has previously excluded Madagascar, South Sudan, the Gambia and Swaziland.
Under AGOA’s recent renewal, the US said that it would ramp up assessments on countries deemed to be falling short, but would also give a 60-day warning if trade preferences are to be withdrawn.