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Burundi ( ), officially the Republic of Burundi, is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakesmarker region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwandamarker to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker to the west. Its size is just under 28,000 km² with an estimated population of almost 8,700,000. Its capital is Bujumburamarker. Although the country is landlocked, much of the southwestern border is adjacent to Lake Tanganyikamarker.

The Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu peoples have occupied Burundi since the country's formation five centuries ago. Burundi was ruled as a kingdom by the Tutsi for over two hundred years. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Germanymarker and Belgiummarker occupied the region, and Burundi and Rwanda became a European colony known as Ruanda-Urundi. Political unrest occurred throughout the region because of social differences between the Tutsi and Hutu, provoking civil war in Burundi throughout the middle twentieth century. Presently, Burundi is governed as a presidential representative democratic republic. Sixty-two percent of Burundians are Roman Catholic, eight to ten percent are Muslims and the rest follow indigenous beliefs and other Christian denominations.

Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. It has the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Burundi has a low gross domestic product largely due to civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, and the effects of HIV/AIDS. Burundi is densely populated, with substantial emigration. Cobalt and copper are among Burundi's natural resources. Some of Burundi's main exports include coffee and sugar.

European conquest

After its defeat in World War I, Germanymarker handed control of Burundi to Belgiummarker. On October 20, 1924, Burundi officially became a part of the Belgian colonial empire and was known as Ruanda-Urundi, and consisted of Rwanda and Burundi. However, the Belgians allowed Ruanda-Urundi to continue its kingship dynasty.

Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi was a United Nations Trust Territory under Belgian administrative authority. During the 1940s, a series of policies caused divisions throughout the country. On October 4, 1943, powers were split in the legislative division of Burundi's government between chiefdoms and lower chiefdoms. Chiefdoms were in charge of land, and lower sub-chiefdoms were established. Native authorities also had powers. In 1948, Belgium allowed the region to form political parties. These factions would be one of the main influences for Burundi's independence from Belgium.

Independence and civil war

On January 20, 1959, Burundi's ruler Mwami Mwambutsa IV requested from the Belgian Minister of Colonies a separation of Burundi and Rwanda and a dissolution of Ruanda-Urundi. Six months later, political parties formed to bring attention to Burundi's independence from Europe and to separate Rwanda from Burundi. The first of these political parties was the African National Union of Ruanda-Urundi (UNARU).

During Burundi's push for independence, instability and ethnic persecution occurred between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. In November 1959, a dispute over land possession sparked a revolt in Rwanda between Hutu teachers and Tutsi soldiers. From 1959 to 1962, Hutu refugees escaped to Rwanda to avoid persecution. In turn, the Hutu in Rwanda murdered thousands of Tutsi, causing the Tutsi to flee to Burundi for freedom. While in Burundi, Tutsi fought against the Hutu, and many Tutsi soldiers killed Hutu peasants in retaliation for Hutu violence in Rwanda. The Hutu managed to take power in Rwanda by winning Belgian-run elections in 1960.

The Union for National Progress (UPRONA), a multi-ethnic unity party led by Tutsi Prince Louis Rwagasore and Christian Democratic Party (PDC) members, became popular throughout Burundi-Urundi. Following an UPRONA victory in legislative elections, Prince Rwagasore was assassinated in 1961. The event caused infighting between the two groups.

The country claimed independence in July 1, 1962, and legally changed its name from Ruanda-Urundi to Burundi. Mwami Mwambutsa IV was named king. On September 18, 1962, just over a month after declaring independence from Belgium, Burundi joined the United Nations.

Upon Burundi’s independence, a constitutional monarchy was established and the Hutus and Tutsis held equal representation in Parliament. However, during Burundi's move to become an independent nation, Hutu forces took control of the country, forcing the Tutsi out, many of whom fled to Rwanda to escape ethnic persecution and death. During 1962 and 1963, approximately 12,000 Tutsi were killed, while between 140,000 to 250,000 people escaped to Rwanda.

In 1965, King Mwambutsa refused to appoint a Hutu prime minister, even though Hutus won a majority in parliamentary elections. An attempted coup by the Hutu dominated police was ruthlessly suppressed by the Tutsi dominated Army led by Michel Micombero When the next Hutu Prime Minister was assassinated in 1965, Hutus engaged in a series of revolts that the government repressed, and, fearing the killings of Tutsis by the neighboring Rwandan Hutu regime, the police and military came under the control of the Tutsis.

Mwambutsa was deposed in 1966 by his son, Prince Ntare V, who claimed the throne. That same year, Tutsi Prime Minister Captain Michel Micombero deposed Ntare, abolished the monarchy, and created a republic, which was in effect a military regime.

A Hutu attack on a military-affiliated town in 1972 resulted in a systematic retaliation by the military against the Hutus. Roughly 200,000 Hutus were killed and about 150,000 became asylum-seekers. Another Tutsi, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, led a bloodless coup in 1976 and promoted various reforms. A new constitution was created in 1981, making Burundi a one-party state. Bagaza was elected head of state. However, Bagaza suppressed political opponents and religious freedoms.

Major Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, overthrew Bagaza in 1987 and suspended the constitution, dissolved the political parties, and reinstated military rule under the Military Committee for National Salvation (CSMN). In 1988, tensions between Hutus, Tutsis, and the military resulted in roughly 20,000 deaths. In response, Buyoya approved a new constitution in 1992 that attempted to create a non-ethnic government with a presidency and a parliament. The constitution provided for a multi-party system. Buyoya also created a commission to investigate the 1988 killings.

An estimated 250,000 people died between 1962 and 1993.

First Attempt at Democracy

In June 1993, Melchior Ndadaye, leader of the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), won the first democratic election and became the first Hutu head of the state, leading a pro-Hutu government. However, in October 1993, Tutsi soldiers assassinated Ndadaye, which started further years of violence between Hutus and Tutsis. It is estimated that some 300,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the years following the assassination.

In early 1994, the parliament elected Cyprien Ntaryamira, also a Hutu, to the office of president. He and the president of Rwanda were killed together when their airplane was shot down. More refugees started fleeing to Rwanda. Another Hutu, parliament speaker Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was appointed as president in October 1994. Within months, a wave of ethnic violence began, starting with the massacre of Hutu refugees in the capital, Bujumbura, and the withdrawal of the mainly Tutsi Union for National Progress from the government and parliament.

In 1996, Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, took power through a coup d’état. He suspended the constitution and was sworn in as president in 1998. In response to the rebel attacks, the population was forced by the government to relocate to refugee camps. Under his rule, long peace talks started, mediated by South Africa. Both parties signed agreements in Arushamarker, Tanzania and Pretoriamarker, South Africa, to share power in Burundi. The agreements took four years to plan, and on August 28, 2000, a transitional government for Burundi was planned as a part of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. The transitional government was placed on a trial basis for five years. After several aborted cease-fires, a 2001 peace plan and power sharing agreement has been relatively successful. After several more years of genocide against the Hutu, a cease-fire was signed in 2003 between the Tutsi-controlled Burundian government and the largest Hutu rebel group, CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy). In 2003, FRODEBU Hutu leader Domitien Ndayizeye was elected president. > In early 2005, ethnic quotas were formed for determining positions in Burundi's government. Throughout the year, elections for parliamentary and president occurred. To this day, conflicts between the Hutu and the Tutsi continue. As of 2008, the Burundian government is talking with the Hutu-led Palipehutu-National Liberation Forces (NLF) to bring peace to the country. In 2005, Pierre Nkurunziza, once a leader of a Hutu rebel group, was elected to president.

Peace Agreements

Following the request of the United Nation Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to intervene in the humanitarian crisis, African leaders began a series of peace talks between the warring factions. Talks were initiated under the aegis of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere in 1995; following his death, South African President Nelson Mandela took the helm. As the talks progressed, South African President Thabo Mbeki and United States President Bill Clinton would also lend their respective weight.

The peace talks took the form of Track I mediations. This method of negotiation can be defined as a form of diplomacy involving governmental or intergovernmental representatives, who may use their positive reputations, mediation or the “carrot and stick” method as a means of obtaining or forcing an outcome, frequently along the lines of “bargaining” or “win-lose”.

The main objective framing the talks was a structural transformation of the Burundian government and military as a way to bridge the ethnic gap between the Tutsis and Hutus. This would be accomplished in two ways. First, a transitional power sharing government would be established, with the president holding office for three year terms. The second objective involved a restructuring of the military, where the two groups would be represented equally.

As the protracted nature of the peace talks demonstrated, there were several obstacles facing the mediators and negotiating parties. First, the Burundian officials perceived the goals as “unrealistic” and viewed the treaty as ambiguous, contradictory and confusing. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Burundians believed the treaty would be irrelevant without an accompanying cease fire. This would require separate and direct talks with the rebel groups. The main Hutu party was skeptical of the offer of a power-sharing government; they alleged that they were deceived by the Tutsis in past agreements.

In 2000, the Burundian President signed the treaty, as well as 13 of the 19 warring Hutu and Tutsi factions. However, disagreements persisted over which group would preside over the nascent government and when the ceasefire would commence. The spoilers of the peace talks were the hardliner Tutsi and Hutu groups who refused to sign the accord; as a result, violence intensified. Three years later at a summit of African leaders in Tanzania, the Burundian president and the main opposition Hutu group signed an accord to end the conflict; the signatory members were granted ministerial posts within the government. However, smaller militant Hutu groups – such as the Forces for National Liberation - remained active.

UN Involvement

Between 1993 and 2003, many rounds of peace talks, overseen by regional leaders in Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda, gradually established power-sharing agreements to satisfy the majority of the contending groups. African Union (AU) peacekeepers were deployed to help oversee the installation of a transitional government. In June 2004, the UN stepped in and took over peacekeeping responsibilities as a signal of growing international support for the already markedly advanced peace process in Burundi.

The mission’s mandate, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, has been to monitor cease-fire; carry out disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants; support humanitarian assistance and refugee and IDP return; assist with elections; protect international staff and Burundian civilians; monitor Burundi’s troublesome borders including halting illicit arms flows; and assist in carrying out institutional reforms including those of the Constitution, judiciary, armed forces, and police. The mission has been allotted 5,650 military personnel, 120 civilian police, and about 1,000 international and local civilian personnel. The mission has been functioning well and has greatly benefited from the existence of a fairly functional transitional government, which is in the process of transitioning into a more legitimate, elected entity.

The main difficulty the operation faced at first was the continued resistance to the peace process by the last Tutsi nationalist rebel group. This organization continued its violent conflict on the outskirts of the capital despite the UN’s presence. By June 2005, the group had stopped fighting and was brought back into the political process. All political parties have accepted a formula for inter-ethnic power-sharing, which means no political party can gain access to government offices unless it is ethnically integrated.

The focus of the UN’s mission had been to enshrine the power-sharing arrangements in a popularly voted constitution, so that elections may be held and a new government installed. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration were done in tandem with elections preparations. In February 2005, the Constitution was approved with over 90% of the popular vote. In May, June, and August 2005, three separate elections were also held at the local level for the Parliament and the presidency.

While there are still some difficulties with refugee returns and securing adequate food supplies for the war-weary population, the mission has overall managed to win the trust and confidence of a majority of the formerly warring leaders as well as the population at large. It has also been involved with several “quick impact” projects including rehabilitating and building schools, orphanages, health clinics, and rebuilding infrastructure such as water lines.

2006 to Present

Reconstruction efforts in Burundi started to practically take effect after 2006. The UN shut down its peacekeeping mission and re-focused on helping with reconstruction. Toward achieving economic reconstruction, Rwanda, D.R.Congo and Burundi relaunched the regional economic bloc: The Great Lakes Countries Economic Community. In addition, Burundi, along with Rwanda, joined the East African Community in 2007.

However, the terms of the September 2006 Ceasefire between the government and the last remaining armed opposition group, the FLN (Forces for National Liberation, also called NLF or FROLINA), were not totally implemented, and senior FLN members subsequently left the truce monitoring team, claiming that their security was threatened. In September 2007, rival FLN factions clashed in the capital, killing 20 fighters and causing residents to begin fleeing. Rebel raids were reported in other parts of the country. The rebel factions disagreed with the government over disarmament and the release of political prisoners. In late 2007 and early 2008, FLN combatants attacked government-protected camps where former combatants now live, in search of peace. The homes of rural residents were also pillaged.

The 2007 report of Amnesty International mentions many areas where improvement is required. Civilians are victims of repeated acts of violence done by the FLN. The latter also recruits child soldiers. The rate of violence against women is high. Perpetrators regularly escape prosecution and punishment by the state. There is an urgent need for reform of the judicial system. Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity remain unpunished. The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Tribunal for investigation and prosecution has not yet been implemented. The freedom of expression is limited, journalists are frequently arrested for carrying out legitimate professional activities. A total of 38,087 Burundian refugees have been repatriated between January and November 2007.

In late March 2008, the FLN sought for the parliament to adopt a law guaranteeing them ‘provisional immunity’ from arrest. This would cover ordinary crimes, but not grave violations of international humanitarian law like war crimes or crimes against humanity . Even though the government has granted this in the past to people, the FLN is unable to obtain the provisional immunity.

On April 17, 2008, the FLN bombarded Bujumbura. The Burundian army fought back and the FLN suffered heavy losses. A new ceasefire was signed on May 26, 2008. In August 2008, President Nkurunziza met with the FLN leader Agathon Rwasa, with the mediation of Charles Nqakula, South Africa’s Minister for Safety and Security. This was the first direct meeting since June 2007. Both agree to meet twice a week to establish a commission to resolve any disputes that might arise during the peace negotiations.

Refugee camps are now closing down, and 450,000 refugees have returned. The economy of the country is shattered - Burundi has the lowest per capita gross income in the world. With the return of refugees, amongst others, property conflicts have started.


Burundi's political system is presidential representative democratic republic based upon a multi-party state. The President of Burundi is the head of state and head of government. There are currently 21 registered parties in Burundi. On March 13, 1992, Tutsi coup leader Pierre Buyoya established a constitution, which provided for a multi-party political process and reflected multi-party competition. Six years later, on June 6, 1998, the constitution was changed, broadening National Assembly's seats and making provisions for two vice presidents. Because of the Arusha Accord, Burundi enacted a transitional government in 2000.

Burundi's legislative branch is a bicameral assembly, consisting of the Transitional National Assembly and the Transitional Senate. As of 2004, the Transitional National Assembly consists of 170 members, with the Front for Democracy in Burundi holding 38% of seats, and 10% of the assembly is controlled by UPRONA. Fifty-two seats are controlled by other parties. Burundi's constitution mandates representation in the Transitional National Assembly to be consistent with 60% Hutu, 40% Tutsi, and 30% female members, as well as three Batwa members. Members of the National Assembly are elected by popular vote and serve for five year terms.

The Transitional Senate has fifty-one members, and three seats are reserved for former presidents. Due to stipulations in Burundi's constitution, 30% of Senate members must be female. Members of the Senate are elected by electoral colleges, which consist of members from each of Burundi's provinces and communes. For each of Burundi's seventeen provinces, one Hutu and one Tutsi senator are chosen. One term for the Transitional Senate is five years.

Together, Burundi's legislative branch elect the President to a five-year term. Burundi's president appoints officials to his Council of Ministers, which is also part of the executive branch. The president can also pick fourteen members of the Transitional Senate to serve on the Council of Ministers. Members of the Council of Ministers must be approved by two-thirds of Burundi's legislature. The president also chooses two vice-presidents. As of 2008, the President of Burundi is Pierre Nkurunziza. The First Vice President is Dr. Yves Sahinguvu, and the Second Vice President is Gabriel Ntisezerana.

The Court Supreme (Supreme Court) is Burundi's highest court. There are three Courts of Appeals directly below the Supreme Court. Tribunals of First Instance are used as judicial courts in each of Burundi's provinces as well as 123 local tribunals.

Provinces, communes, and collines

Map of provinces

Burundi is divided into 17 provinces, 117 communes, and 2,638 collines (hills). Provincial governments are structured upon these boundaries. In 2000, the province encompassing Bujumbura was separated into two provinces, Bujumbura Rural and Bunjumbura Mairie.

The provinces are:


Map of Burundi

One of the smallest countries in Africa, Burundi is landlocked and has an equatorial climate. Burundi is a part of the Albertine Rift, the western extension of the Great Rift Valley. The country lies on a rolling plateau in the center of Africa. The average elevation of the central plateau is , with lower elevations at the borders. The highest peak, Mount Hehamarker at , lies to the southeast of the capital, Bujumbura. The Nile is a major river in Burundi. Lake Victoriamarker is also an important water source, which serves as a fork to the Kagera River. Another major lake is Lake Tanganyikamarker, located in much of Burundi's southwestern corner.

Burundi's lands are mostly agricultural or pasture. Settlement by rural populations has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss. Deforestation of the entire country is almost completely due to overpopulation, with a mere remaining and an ongoing loss of about 9% per annum. There are two national parks, Kibira National Park to the northwest (a small region of rain forest, adjacent to Nyungwe Forest National Parkmarker in Rwanda), Rurubu National Park to the northeast (along the Rurubu River, also known as Ruvubu or Ruvuvu). Both were established in 1982 to conserve wildlife populations.


Burundi is one of the poorest countries on the planet, owing in part to its landlocked geography, poor legal system, lack of access to education, and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS. Approximately 80% of Burundi's population lives in poverty. Famines and food shortages have occurred throughout Burundi, most notably in the 20th century, and according to the World Food Programme, 56.8% of children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition. One scientific study of 178 nations rated Burundi's population as having the lowest satisfaction with life in the world. As a result of poverty, Burundi is dependent on foreign aid.

Burundi's largest industry is agriculture, which accounted for 58% of the GDP in 1997. Subsistence agriculture accounts for 90% of agriculture. The nation's largest source of revenue is coffee, which makes up 93% of Burundi's exports. Other agriculture products include cotton, tea, maize, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, manioc (tapioca); beef, milk, and hides. Some of Burundi's natural resources include uranium, nickel, cobalt, copper, and platinum. Besides agriculture, other industries include: assembly of imported components; public works construction; food processing, and light consumer goods such as blankets, shoes, and soap. Burundi's currency is the Burundian franc (BIF); As of July 2008, 1,184 Burundian franc were equivalent to one United States dollar.

Burundi is part of the East African Community and a potential member of the planned East African Federation.


A group of Burundian women rearing goats

As of 2008, Burundi was projected to have an estimated population of 8,691,005 people. This estimate explicitly takes into account the effects of AIDS, which has a significant effect on the demographics of the country. Over 500,000 have been displaced due to the disease. Many Burundians have migrated to other countries as a result of the civil war. In 2006, the United Statesmarker accepted approximately 10,000 Burundian refugees.

Most Burundians live in rural areas, and about six percent of the population live in urban areas. The population density of around 315 people per square kilometer (753 per sq mi) is the second highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Roughly 85% of the population are of Hutu ethnic origin, 15% of the remaining population are Tutsi, and fewer than one percent are Twas.


Sources estimate the Christian population to be 70 percent, with Roman Catholics representing the largest group at 65 percent. Protestant and Anglican practitioners comprise the remaining 5 percent. An estimated 23 percent of the population adheres to traditional indigenous religious beliefs; some of the traditional indigenous groups promoted cures for HIV/AIDS and other ailments. The Muslim population is estimated to be at 10 percent, the majority of whom live in urban areas. Sunnis make up the majority of the Muslim population, and the remainder is Shi'a.


There is less healthcare in Burundi than in most other countries. Life expectancy at birth is estimated at 48.5 years. (2005)
A large proportion of the population is undernourished. There were 3 physicians per 100,000 persons in the early 2000s. The HIV/AIDS  prevalence has been about 4.2 % in 2007.


Gitega drums

Burundi's culture is based on local tradition and the influence of neighboring countries, though cultural prominence has been hindered by civil unrest. Since farming is the main industry in Burundi, a typical Burundian meal consists of sweet potatoes, corn, and peas. Due to the expense, meat is only eaten a few times per month. When several Burundians of close acquaintance meet for a gathering they drink impeke, a beer, from a large container. Each person receives a straw to symbolize unity.

Crafts are an important art form in Burundi and are attractive gifts to many tourists. Basket weaving is a popular craft for Burundian artisans. Other crafts such as masks, shields, statues, pottery are made in Burundi.

Drumming is an important part of Burundian cultural heritage. The world-famous Royal Drummers of Burundi, who have performed for over forty years, are noted for traditional drumming using the amashako, ibishikiso, and ikiranya drums. Dance often accompanies drumming performance, which is frequently seen in celebrations and family gatherings. The abatimbo, which is performed at official ceremonies and rituals, and the fast-paced abanyagasimbo are some famous Burundian dances. Some musical instruments of note are the flute, zither, ikembe, indonongo, umuduri, inanga, and the inyagara.

Football in Burundi

Kirundi, French, and Swahili are spoken throughout Burundi. Burundi's literacy rate is low, due to low school attendance. Ten percent of Burundian boys are allowed a secondary education. Burundi's oral tradition is strong and relays history and life lessons through storytelling, poetry, and song. Imigani, indirimbo, amazina, and ivyivugo are types of literary genres existing in Burundi.

Basketball and track and field are noted sports in Burundi. Football is a popular pastime throughout the country, as are mancala games. In Burundi most Christian holidays are celebrated, with Christmas being the largest. Burundian Independence Day is celebrated annually on July 1. In 2005, the Burundian government declared Eid al-Fitr, an Islamic holiday, to be a public holiday.

Recently the government of Burundi passed changes in law, criminalising homosexuality. Persons found guilty of consensual same-sex relations risk two to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Burundian francs. Amnesty International has condemned the action, calling it a violation of Burundi’s obligations under international and regional human rights law, and against Burundi’s constitution, which guarantees the right to privacy.


Burundi has the University of Bujumbura. There are several museums in the cities, such as the Burundi Geological Museum in Bujumburamarker and the Burundi National Museum and the Burundi Museum of Life in Gitegamarker. Adult literacy is at about half among men and about a quarter among women.

See also


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