GPE, a neutral player in crisis situations: the case of Burundi

Burundi is an example of the different measures GPE has put in place to minimize the negative impact of crises and conflicts on the education sector

Children in a classroom in Burundi Credit: UNICEF Burundi/Colfs

In fragile states and countries experiencing crises such as Burundi, GPE’s priority is to keep education going. Yet how do you remain a neutral, universally accepted player in such sensitive situations?

Keeping the education system going despite persistent crises

Just when it looked as if lasting peace had returned to Burundi following ten years of growing stability, a new political crisis erupted in the country in April 2015 in response to the incumbent president’s announcement to seek a third term of office.

This new crisis came during the implementation of the first GPE grant of US$52.9 million approved in November 2012. The grant was supporting the implementation of the first phase of the country’s Education Sector Plan (Plan Sectoriel de Développement de l’Education et de la Formation – PSDEF) for the 2012-2020 period, with Belgian development agency BTC as grant agent and UNICEF as coordinating agency.

Sustaining trust between partners …

The political crisis escalated with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s re-election in July 2015.

Before the crisis, the French Agency for Development (AFD) was designated as the new grant agent for the potential new grant from GPE of a maximum of US$25.6 million. But a final decision on this choice did not take place during the time of the crisis, which contributed to tensions among development partners.

In November 2015, BTC felt it was no longer able to act as grant agent for the GPE grant, but offered to continue until a replacement could be found for the maximum period of six months provided for in such circumstances by the GPE guidelines.

Consultations among partners in the education pooled fund (Fonds Commun pour l’Éducation – FCE) and then between these partners and GPE, with Burundi government participation, culminated in UNICEF’s appointment as new grant agent in February 2016 to manage the balance of the GPE grant with its new closing date of July 2018.

GPE drew on the lessons from this process to develop its standard selection process for grant agents, approved by the Country Grants and Performance Committee (CGPC). The process is now more inclusive in its selection of grant agents in charge of implementing grants in GPE partner countries.

… thanks to the use of effective tools

Instruments developed by GPE, such as the GPE operational framework for effective support in fragile and conflict-affected states and the policy on education sector program implementation grants (adopted in 2015), proved particularly useful in advising and guiding local partners in this process of change.

Although these partners were already aware of these instruments, the GPE Secretariat’s assistance and regular contributions, like its neutrality, played a major role in driving the process forward.

A lesson in efficiency

A common vision and shared commitment helped maintain cohesion among the partners, who, like the members of the same family, worked tirelessly together on the process of change.

Although the political situation remains unstable and there is not yet a clear roadmap showing the way out of the crisis in Burundi, partners in the pooled fund overcame their differences and chose dialogue and transparent resources management in the strict interest of the children.

The lessons learned from this experience should serve other countries, in both peaceful and crisis situations. These lessons can be summed up as follows:

  • For the GPE Secretariat, neutrality is a strength to be maintained, as is its facilitation work that helped speed up progress through the important steps of restructuring the grant allocated to Burundi.
  • The group of donors participating in the pooled fund served as a real collaborative platform, choosing dialogue and aid alignment, harmonization, sound and efficient management of resources in the interest of the children, and close cooperation with the government wherever possible.
  • The selection of well-prepared, committed, experienced partners to manage GPE grants makes for efficient action in crisis situations.

The GPE Secretariat’s regular communication with partners by e-mail, videoconference and meetings, and its work to seek a consensus among the different partners played a key role in appeasing tensions. It allowed the work for a quality education for all children in Burundi to stay on track.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi


The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

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