Closing the Distance between Rwanda and Burundi

Rwanda road Credit: Andrew Raven / AfDB
300,000 people
benefit from small-scale irrigation schemes
250 km
of additional feeder roads improved access to markets and services
4.5 hours
cut from the time to travel between Rwanda’s capital and Burundi’s border
Good roads and efficient border crossings are at the heart of the regional integration of Rwanda and Burundi. However, without the proper transportation and customs infrastructure, isolated rural communities in both countries have lacked access to public services, markets, and economic opportunities.

The Bank Responds

In 2006, the Bank provided a US$45 million grant to improve the road network in southern Rwanda and northern Burundi. This involved constructing a two-lane highway, the Kicukiro–Kirundo all-weather road, to connect the two countries. It also involved funding the construction of feeder roads connecting surrounding communities. This paved the way for a new economic corridor that is still growing years later.


  • On average, 15 minutes is all it now takes to make the border crossing between Rwanda and Burundi, thanks to new customs buildings equipped with weighbridges and communication technology, as well as accommodation for officials.
  • 97 km of all-weather paved roads were constructed (60 km in Rwanda and 37 km in Burundi), benefiting 300,000 residents.
  • 250 km of feeder roads were built (93 km in Rwanda and 160 km in Burundi), improving people’s access to markets and basic services.
  • To further boost economic activity and the quality of services, 30 buildings—schools, markets and health centres—were also built along the new highway.
AfDB is a major player in supporting the Government of Rwanda. We are providing significant support in bridging the infrastructure deficit by mainly investing in transport and energy projects Negatu Makonnen, AfDB Resident Representative

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Overall, the 97-km highway (60 km in Rwanda and 37 km in Burundi) benefited some 300,000 residents in both countries. The project also included the construction of more than 250 km of feeder roads. This new network of roads linked remote communities to the main road, often for the very first time.

To further boost economic and social development in the area, buildings for schools, health centres and markets were also constructed.

Today there are clear signs of increased development along the highway, including new hotels and markets. Communities and farms near the roadway have flourished, thanks to increased traffic and higher land values.

The AfDB grant was also used to set up better border management systems. This involved constructing new customs buildings equipped with weighbridges and communication technology, as well as accommodation for officials. As a result, border crossings for goods and people are now faster.

Another key element of the road project was to improve road safety and water drainage with highway signs, lane lines, crosswalks, dikes, drainage pipes, barriers, bridges and protective walls.

Meet the Beneficiaries

Connecting the Economic Dots: AfDB supports regional integration by financing a multinational road project connecting Rwanda and Burundi.
Since its completion in 2008, the all-weather Kicukiro–Kirundo highway has enabled economic and social development in southern Rwanda and northern Burundi.

It once took up to six hours to go from Rwanda's capital Kigali to the border of northern Burundi. Much of the road was unpaved and plagued by potholes, rocks and encroaching forest on either side.

Bicycles, motorcycles and pickup trucks were the only modes of transport to make the unforgiving trek, leaving many communities in Rwanda’s southern districts of Kicukiro and Bugesera isolated. Border crossings were also considered a tedious affair because of poor infrastructure and little integration on either side.

In 2006 this situation started to change, thanks to a US$45 million grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the Kicukiro–Kirundo highway linking Rwanda and Burundi. The grant was used to build or upgrade 97 km of highway, as well as water drains, sidewalks, dikes, barriers, highway signs and customs office facilities at shared border crossings, and more than 250 km of feeder roads. Some 30 schools, health centres and markets were also built to boost socioeconomic growth in the area.

AfDB support did much more than improve the transport infrastructure in the two countries. The road project paved the way for a new economic corridor that is still growing years later.

As you reach the outskirts of Kigali, you can see the myriad of new hotels and residential complexes springing up as the road winds southward. Tourist buses, semi-trailer trucks and minibuses can be seen passing back and forth, picking up passengers at bustling roadside markets. Strip malls have also taken up residence, selling everything from electronics to packaged foods.

The road project paved the way for a new economic corridor that is still growing years later.

Engineer Jean Habyarimana, the Director of Construction for the Rwanda Transport Development Agency, says roads boost economic growth because they connect people and help exchange goods.

If you don't have infrastructure like roads, transporting people and goods is difficult and commerce will be low. How would farmers and producers of goods access markets without roads? Engineer Jean Habyarimana

About 40 minutes north of Burundi’s border, local metal smiths and carpenters ply their trade at an outdoor workshop. It's there, just meters from the all-weather Kicukiro road, that they display their goods and interact with customers. The workshop cooperative, with its tin sheet roofs, didn't exist before the highway construction. In fact, without the road, this market would have been nothing more than a pipe dream, tradesmen say.

Earlier, it was all farms and forest. Without the road, the business centre wouldn't exist either. Damacien Ngayaberura, metal worker

The 33-year-old metal worker adds that the road has brought higher wages for members of the cooperative in his village. Before the opening of his shop, Ngayaberura had to travel a long way to reach his clients and workshop. He also earned a lot less.

Damacien Ngayaberura (pictured) works in a cooperative workshop beside the Kicukiro-Kirundo main road.

He is now able to forgo a dreary commute and interact with customers on his own terms. The metal smith's daily wage is upwards of 6,000 RWF. Land value along the road has also increased, with 30- by 25-meter land plots—which cost around 5,000 RWF before the road completion in 2008—now going for 1.5 million RWF.

But it's not just small businesses and entrepreneurs that have benefited from the highway; officials hope it will eventually serve national interests as well. The Government of Rwanda is currently mulling a new airport in the area, as well as a football stadium with a capacity of 45,000 people.

AfDB Resident Representative Negatu Makonnen says this is exactly the kind of economic development Rwanda needs to keep its forward momentum going strong.

In Africa, most of the economies are small and fragmented; there is no way they could grow and prosper on their own—they need to work together and be connected. Regional infrastructure is at the heart of regional integration Negatu Makonnen, AfDB Resident Representative

From the Field

A women's collective, formed after the construction of the Kicukiro-Kirundo road, has drawn tourists and traders to the area.
The 97-km Kicukiro-Kirundo highway, built with AfDB support, has boosted local economies.
Shantal Nyibambari, president of Cobamaya Imirasive, a women's collective selling handicrafts along the Kicukiro-Kirundo road.
Welder Damacien Ngayaberura, 33, works beside the Kicukiro-Kirundo road, where small industries have taken off since the thoroughfare was completed in 2008.