Burundi Applies to Join Commonwealth to Bolster Angolophone Ties

Burundi has applied to join the Commonwealth group of mostly former British colonies to build closer trade relations with Angolophone economies, Cooperation Minister Laurent Kavakure said.

Belgian-governed until its independence in 1962, Burundi has switched the primary education system to English from French and is translating all its major laws as a condition of membership, Kavakure said in an interview today. The country’s national language that’s most widely spoken is Kirundi, while French is mostly used for government services.

“With the Commonwealth membership, the country will have trade relations with these neighboring countries but also with remote countries like India, Sri Lanka, the U.K. and others which are already members of the community,” he said from the capital, Bujumbura.

Burundi, the smallest economy in the five-nation East African Community common market, derives most of its foreign currency from coffee exports and holds mineral deposits including nickel, gold, copper, cobalt, niobium and tantalum.

The country is rebuilding its economy and after a decade-long civil war that erupted in 1993 killed 300,000 people. Growth is forecast by the International Monetary Fund at 4.5 percent this year and 4.7 percent in 2014.

If admitted, Burundi would become the third country after Rwanda and Mozambique to join the Commonwealth without a historical tie to the British colonial system. Rwanda is also a member of the EAC, along with Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda which recognize English among their official languages.

Burundi, which plans to remain a member of the 57-nation International Organisation of La Francophonie, is seeking observer status before becoming a full member of the Commonwealth, said Kavakure. The 53-country Commonwealth grouping is home to more than 2.2 billion citizens.

To contact the reporter on this story: Desire Nimubona in Bujumbura at dnimubona@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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