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Burundi is one of the few countries in Africa, along with its closely linked neighbour Rwanda among others, to be a direct territorial continuation of an ancient African state.


Kingdom of Burundi

The origins of Burundi are known from a mix of oral history and archaeology. There are two main founding legends for Burundi. Both suggest that the nation was founded by a man named Cambarantama. The legend most promoted today states that he was Rwandan. The other version, more common in pre-colonial Burundi, says that Cambarantama came from the southern state of Buha.

The first evidence of the Burundian state is from 16th century where it emerged on the eastern foothills. Over the following centuries it expanded, annexing smaller neighbours and competing with Rwanda. Its greatest growth occurred under Ntare Rugamba, who ruled the nation from about 1796 to 1850 and saw the kingdom double in size.

The Kingdom of Burundi was characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. The king, known as the mwami headed a princely aristocracy (ganwa) which owned most of the land and required a tribute, or tax, from local farmers and herders. In the mid-18th century, this Tutsi royalty consolidated authority over land, production, and distribution with the development of the ubugabire—a patron-client relationship in which the populace received royal protection in exchange for tribute and land tenure.

Although European explorers and missionaries made brief visits to the area as early as 1856, it was not until 1899 that Burundi became a part of German East Africa. Unlike the Rwandan monarchy, which decided to accept the German advances, the Burundian king Mwezi Gisabo opposed all European influence, refusing to wear European clothing and resisting the advance of European missionaries or administrators. The Germans used armed force and succeeded in doing great damage, but did not destroy the king’s power. Eventually they backed one of the king's sons-in-law Maconco in a revolt against Gisabo. Gisabo was eventually forced to concede and agreed to German suzerainty. The Germans then helped him suppress Maconco's revolt. The smaller kingdoms along the western shore of Lake Victoria were also attached to Burundi.

Colonial rule

Even after this the foreign presence was minimal and the kings continued to rule much as before. The Europeans did, however, bring devastating diseases affecting both people and animals. Affecting the entire region, Burundi was especially hard hit. A great famine hit in 1905, with others striking the entire Great Lakes region in 1914, 1923, and 1944. Between 1905 and 1914 half the population of the western plains region died .

In 1916 Belgian troops conquered the area during the First World War. In 1923, the League of Nations mandated to Belgium the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, encompassing modern-day Rwanda and Burundi, but stripping the western kingdoms and giving them to British administered Tanganyika. The Belgians administered the territory through indirect rule, building on the Tutsi-dominated aristocratic hierarchy.

Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations Trust Territory under Belgian administrative authority. After 1948, Belgium permitted the emergence of competing political parties. Two political parties emerged: the Union for National Progress (UPRONA), a multi-ethnic party led by Tutsi Prince Louis Rwagasore and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) supported by Belgium. In 1961, Prince Rwagasore was assassinated following an UPRONA victory in legislative elections.

Long-Term Ethnic Distribution of Leadership Positions[1]
Ethnic group 1929 1933 1937 1945 1967 1987 1993 1997 2000a 2000b End-2001
Tutsi 22 15 18 28 71 72 32 38 89 100 47
Hutu 20 6 2 0 18 28 68 62 11 0 53


Full independence was achieved on July 1, 1962. In the context of weak democratic institutions at independence, Tutsi King Mwambutsa IV established a constitutional monarchy comprising equal numbers of Hutus and Tutsis. The 1965 assassination of the Hutu prime minister set in motion a series of destabilizing Hutu revolts and subsequent governmental repression. These were in part in reaction to Rwanda's "Social Revolution" of 1959-1961, where Rwandan Tutsi were subject to mass murder by the new government of Hutu Grégoire Kayibanda. In Burundi the Tutsi became committed to ensuring they would not meet the same fate and much of the country's military and police forces became controlled by Tutsis. Unlike Rwanda, which allied itself with the United States in the Cold War, Burundi after independence became affiliated with China.

The monarchy refused to recognize gains by Hutu candidates in the legislative elections held in May 1965. In response, a group of Hutu carried out a failed coup attempt against the monarchy, which in turn prompted the killing of scores of Hutu politicians and intellectuals.[2] In 1966, King Mwambutsa IV was deposed by his son, Prince Ntare V, who himself was deposed by his prime minister Capt. Michel Micombero in the same year. He abolished the monarchy and declared a republic. A de facto military regime emerged and civil unrest continued throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. Micombero headed a clique of ruling Hima, the Tutsi subgroup located in southern Burundi.[3] Similar to 1965, rumors of an impending Hutu coup in 1969 prompted the arrest and execution of scores of prominent political and military figures.[2]

In June 1971, a group of Banyaruguru, the socially "higher up" subgroup of Tutsi located in the north of the country, were accused of conspiracy by the ruling Hima clique. On 14 January 1972, a military tribunal sentenced four Banyaruguru officers and five civilians to death, and seven to life imprisonment. To the Hima concerns about a Hutu uprising or Banyaruguru-led coup was added the return of Ntare V from exile, a potential rallying point for the Hutu majority.[3]


1972 genocide

On April 29, there was an outbreak of violence in the south of the country, also the base of the Hima, where bands of roving Hutu committed innumerable atrocities against Tutsi civilians. All civilian and military authorities in the city of Bururi were killed and the insurgents then seized the armories in the towns of Rumonge and Nyanza-Lac. They then attempted to kill every Tutsi they could, as well as some Hutu who refused to participate in the rebellion, before retreating to Vyanda, near Bururi, and proclaiming a "Republic of Martyazo."[4]

A week after the insurgent proclamation of a republic, government troops moved in. Meanwhile, President Micombero declared martial law on May 30 and asked Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko for assistance. Congolese paratroopers were deployed to secure the airport while the Burundi army moved into the countryside. Africanist René Lemarchand notes, "What followed was not so much a repression as a hideous slaughter of Hutu civilians. The carnage went on unabated through the month of August. By then virtually every educated Hutu element, down to secondary school students, was either dead or in flight."[4] Because the perpetrators, composed of government troops and the Jeunesses Révolutionnaires Rwagasore (JRR), the youth wing of the Union for National Progress ruling party, targeted primarily civil servants, educated males and university students, solely because of the "Hutuness" and irrespective of if they posed a threat, Lemarchand terms the eradication a "partial genocide."[5] One of the first to be killed was deposed monarch Ntare V, in Gitega,.[6]

From late April to September 1972, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Hutu were killed.[7] About 300,000 people became refugees, with most fleeing to Tanzania.[8] In an effort to attract sympathy from the United States, the Tutsi-dominated government accused the Hutu rebels of having Communist leanings, although there is no credible evidence that this was actually the case. Lemarhand notes that, while crushing the rebellion was the first priority, the genocide was suceessful in a number of other objectives: ensuring the long-term stability of the Tutsi state by eliminating Hutu elites and potential elites; turning the army, police and gendarmie into a Tutsi monopoly; denying the potential return of monarchy through the murder of Ntare V; and creating a new legitimacy for the Hima-dominated state as protector of the country, especially for the previously fractious Tutsi-Banyaruguru.[9][10]

Post-1972 genocide developments

In 1976, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza took power in a bloodless coup. Although Bagaza led a Tutsi-dominated military regime, he encouraged land reform, electoral reform, and national reconciliation. In 1981, a new constitution was promulgated. In 1984, Bagaza was elected head of state, as the sole candidate. After his election, Bagaza's human rights record deteriorated as he suppressed religious activities and detained political opposition members.

In 1987, Major Pierre Buyoya overthrew Col. Bagaza. He dissolved opposition parties, suspended the 1981 constitution, and instituted his ruling Military Committee for National Salvation (CSMN). During 1988, increasing tensions between the ruling Tutsis and the majority Hutus resulted in violent confrontations between the army, the Hutu opposition, and Tutsi hardliners. During this period, an estimated 150,000 people were killed, with tens of thousands of refugees flowing to neighboring countries. Buyoya formed a commission to investigate the causes of the 1988 unrest and to develop a charter for democratic reform.

In 1991, Buyoya approved a constitution that provided for a president, nonethnic government, and a parliament. Burundi's first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, of the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) Party, was elected in 1993.

Civil war

Ndadaye was assassinated three months later, in October 1993, by Tutsi army extremists. The country’s situation rapidly declined as Hutu peasants began to rise up and massacre Tutsi. In acts of brutal retribution, the Tutsi army proceeded to round up thousands of Hutu and kill them. The Rwandan Genocide in 1994, sparked by the killing of Ndadaye’s successor Cyprien Ntaryamira, further aggravated the conflict in Burundi by sparking additional massacres of Tutsis.

A decade of civil war followed, as the Hutu formed militias in the refugee camps of northern Tanzania. An estimated 300,000 people were killed in clashes and reprisals against the local population, with 550,000 citizens (nine percent of the population) being displaced.[11] After the assassination of Ntaryamira, the Hutu presidency and Tutsi military operated under a power-sharing political system until July 1996, when Tutsi Pierre Buyoya seized power in a military coup. Under international pressure, the warring factions negotiated a peace agreement in Arusha in 2000, which called for ethnically balanced military and government and democratic elections. Two powerful Hutu rebel groups (the CNDD-FDD and the FNL) refused to sign the peace agreement and fighting continued in the countryside. Finally, the CNDD-FDD agreed to sign a peace deal in November 2003 and joined the transitional government. The last remaining rebel group, the FNL, continued to reject the peace process and committed sporadic acts of violence in 2003 and 2004, finally signing a cease fire agreement in 2006.


Former President Domitien Ndayizeye and his political supporters were arrested in 2006 and accused of plotting a coup, but later he was acquitted by the Supreme Court. International human rights groups claimed that the current government was framing Domitien Ndayizeye by torturing him into false confessions of the coup plot. Along with these accusations, in December 2006 the International Crisis Group labeled Burundi’s government with a “deteriorating” status in its treatment of human rights. The organization reported that the government had arrested critics, muzzled the press, committed human rights abuses, and tightened its control over the economy, and that "unless it [reversed] this authoritarian course, it risk[ed] triggering violent unrest and losing the gains of peace process."[12]

In February 2007, the U.N. officially shut down its peacekeeping operations in Burundi and turned its attention to rebuilding the nation’s economy, which relies heavily on tea and coffee but suffered severely during 12 years of civil war. The U.N. had deployed 5,600 peacekeepers since 2004, and several hundred troops remained to work with the African Union in monitoring the ceasefire. The U.N. donated $35 million to Burundi to work on infrastructure, promote democratic practices, rebuild the military, and defend human rights.

SOS Children, an NGO, claims success in the use of ARVs and condoms to combat AIDS when sample testing showed that the amount of those whom were HIV positive were 20 percent. The death toll due to the syndrome has still been devastating with the UN estimating 25,000 deaths in 2001 and Oxfam estimating 45,000 dead in 2003.

Reaching a stable compromise on post-transition power sharing was difficult. Although a post-transition constitution was approved in September 2004, it was approved over a boycott by the Tutsi parties. In addition, the Arusha Peace Agreement mandated that local and national elections be held before the ending of the transitional period on 31 October 2004, but transitional institutions were extended. On 28 February 2005, however, Burundians popularly approved a post-transitional constitution by national referendum, with elections set to take place throughout the summer of 2005. After local, parliamentary, and other elections in June and July, on 19 August 2005, the good governance minister, Pierre Nkurunziza, became the first post-transitional president.

See also



  1. ^ Numbers from 1929-1967 are actual leadership positions; subsequent numbers are percent of total. Ngaruko & Nkurunziza, 41
  2. ^ a b Lemarchand, 134
  3. ^ a b Lemarchand, 137
  4. ^ a b Lemarchand, 136
  5. ^ Lemarchand, 132 & 134
  6. ^ Lemarchand, 137-138
  7. ^ Lemarchand, 129
  8. ^ "Refugees and Internally Displaced in Burundi: The Urgent Need for a Consensus on Their Repatriation and Reintegration". International Crisis Group. 2 December 2003. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-06-30. "La première s’est produite en 1972 suite au génocide perpétré par l’armée contre l’élite hutu, entraînant la fuite de quelque 300 000 personnes, réfugiées principalement en Tanzanie."   (French)
  9. ^ Lemarchand, 138
  10. ^ See also René Lemarchand (2008-07-27). "Case Study: The Burundi Killings of 1972". Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence. Retrieved 2009-06-30.  
  11. ^ "Burundi Civil War". Retrieved 2009-06-30.  
  12. ^ "Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk". International Crisis Group. 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2009-06-29.  

External links


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