Location:
Central-East Africa

Capital City:
Bujumbura

Area:
total: 27,830 sq km
land: 25,680 sq km
water: 2,150 sq km

Land boundaries:
total: 1,140 km
border countries (3):
The Democratic Republic of the Congo 236 km,
Rwanda 315 km,
Tanzania 589 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

total: 1,140 km

Burundi
political-map-of-Burundi

Burundi

Flag_of_Burundi.svg
Karera-waterfalls-Burundi-Tour

Climate:
equatorial; high plateau with a considerable altitude
average annual rainfall is about 150 cm;
two wet seasons (February to May and September to November),
two dry seasons (June to August and December to January)

Terrain:
hilly and mountainous, dropping to a plateau in east, some plains

Elevation:
mean elevation: 1,504 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Lake Tanganyika 772 m
highest point: Heha 2,670 m

Natural resources:
nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum, vanadium, arable land, hydropower, niobium, tantalum, gold, tin, tungsten, kaolin, limestone

Land use:
agricultural land: 73.3%
arable land 38.9%; permanent crops 15.6%; permanent pasture 18.8%
forest: 6.6%
other: 20.1% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land:
230 sq km (2012)

Population – distribution:
one of Africa’s most densely populated countries; concentrations tend to be in the north and along the northern shore of Lake Tanganyika in the west; most people live on farms near areas of fertile volcanic soil

Natural hazards:
flooding;
landslides;
drought

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People and Society

As of July 2017, Burundi was estimated by the United Nations to have a population of 11,466,756 people, compared to only 2,456,000 in 1950. The population growth rate is 2.5 percent per year, more than double the average global pace, and a Burundian woman has on average 6.3 children, nearly triple the international fertility rate. Burundi had the fifth highest total fertility rate in the world in 2012

Burundi is a densely populated country with a high population growth rate, factors that combined with land scarcity and poverty place a large share of its population at risk of food insecurity. About 90% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture. Subdivision of land to sons, and redistribution to returning refugees results in smaller, overworked, and less productive plots. Food shortages, poverty, and a lack of clean water contribute to a 60% chronic malnutrition rate among children. A lack of reproductive health services has prevented a significant reduction in Burundi’s maternal mortality and fertility rates, which are both among the world’s highest. With two-thirds of its population under the age of 25 and a birth rate of about 6 children per woman, Burundi’s population will continue to expand rapidly for decades to come, putting additional strain on a poor country.

Historically, migration flows into and out of Burundi have consisted overwhelmingly of refugees from violent conflicts. In the last decade, more than a half million Burundian refugees returned home from neighboring countries, mainly Tanzania. Reintegrating the returnees has been problematic due to their prolonged time in exile, land scarcity, poor infrastructure, poverty, and unemployment. Repatriates and existing residents (including internally displaced persons) compete for limited land and other resources. To further complicate matters, international aid organizations reduced their assistance because they no longer classified Burundi as a post-conflict country. Conditions have deteriorated since renewed violence erupted in April 2015, causing another outpouring of refugees. In addition to refugee out-migration, Burundi has hosted thousands of refugees from neighboring countries, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and lesser numbers from Rwanda.

Population:
11,466,756 (July 2017 est.)

Nationality:
Burundian(s)

Ethnic groups:
Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa (Pygmy) 1%.

Languages:
Kirundi 29.7% (official), Kirundi 9.1%, French (official); French 0.3%, Swahili; Swahili 0.2%, English (official); English 0.06%, more than 2 languages 3.7%, unspecified 56.9%

Religions:
Roman Catholic 62.1%, Protestant 23.9% (includes Adventist 2.3% and other Protestant 21.6%), Muslim 2.5%, other 3.6%, unspecified 7.9% (2008 est.)

Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Native Burundians belong to one of the three major ethnic groups in Burundi: the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa peoples. The historical origins of ethnic differentiation between Hutu and Tutsi are disputed, however, members of both groups consider themselves distinct. The Hutu are the largest ethnic group in Burundi, representing approximately 80 percent of Burundians. Historically, they lived as agriculturalists. Tutsi represent approximately 19 percent of the national population. Historically, the Tutsi dominated political institutions in Burundi, including the nation’s monarchy. They lived as pastoralists. The Twa are the smallest indigenous ethnic group in Burundi and are a pygmy people. There are estimated to be between 30–40,000 Twa living in Burundi (one percent of the national population). As an ethnic group, they have links to the pygmy peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They traditionally lived as hunter-gatherers and musicians but, following bans on hunting and land re-distribution, now often work as unskilled laborers.

The official languages of Burundi are Kirundi, French and, since 2014, English. Swahili can be found spoken along the Tanzanian border and it has some official recognition by law as a language “spoken and taught”. Rundi (Kirundi) is a Bantu language that is the standard medium of communication throughout the country, and French. Swahili, the language of trade, is widely spoken in Bujumbura, as is French. It is notable that Rundi is spoken by both the Hutu and Tutsi, who together form the overwhelming majority of the country’s population; such linguistic homogeneity is rare in sub-Saharan Africa.

The country has a relatively large Christian population, with about three-fifths of Burundians identifying as Roman Catholic and more than one-eighth identifying as Protestant. A large minority and even some Roman Catholics also practice traditional religion. Muslims constitute less than one-twentieth of the population. Church-state relations have been a focal point of ethnic tension since the 1970s. The government of the Second Republic (1976–87) attempted to curtail the social and educational activities of the Roman Catholic Church because its policies were thought to favor the Hutu over the Tutsi. After a military coup in 1987, the issue was temporarily defused, yet the church continues to be seen by many Tutsi as a dangerously subversive institution.

burundi-population-pyramid-2016

Education

Education is compulsory in Burundi for six years, between the ages of 7 and 13. About one-half of the country is literate, a rate that is lower than in neighboring countries and well below the world average. Primary education begins at age seven and is compulsory for six years; secondary education, divided into programs of four and then three years, is not mandatory. Education is free, and instruction is in Rundi at the primary level and in French at the secondary level. The distribution of the school-age population shows a striking disproportion in enrollment figures between primary and secondary schools, the former accounting for more than four-fifths of total enrollments. Only a small fraction of primary-school students are admitted to the secondary level, and fewer still are able to gain admission to the University of Burundi at Bujumbura or one of the few colleges in the country.

Ethnic discrimination in schools remains a politically sensitive issue. The overrepresentation of Tutsi at the secondary and university levels translates into the absence of significant avenues of upward mobility for the Hutu majority and the Twa, which means that Tutsi enjoy a virtual monopoly on civil-service positions. Despite outbreaks of ethnic strife, most schools have continued to function amid the unrest. Primary education lasts for six years. On completion of standard six, students must sit for a national test in order to obtain a “Certificate d’Etudes Primaires” (Primary School Leaving Certificate) and to continue on to secondary school in the public system. Those that have higher percentage test results continue to public high schools while those with low percentages attend communal colleges (the percentage is based upon the average overall test results).

Secondary education is divided into lower and upper secondary education. Lower secondary education; It is available to those who pass the National Entrance Examination and lasts for four years. A national test is imposed on all those who complete lower secondary education (4th year of lower education). Their records are submitted to a National Orientation Commission to determine which section the student would specialize in for the last three years of study. Upper secondary level takes another three years after lower education. Burundi has just one public university, University of Burundi. There are museums in the cities, such as the Burundi Geological Museum in Bujumbura and the Burundi National Museum and the Burundi Museum of Life in Gitega.

 

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Economy

Agriculture accounts for over 40% of GDP and employs more than 90% of the population. Burundi’s primary exports are coffee and tea, which account for more than half of foreign exchange earnings. Thus, Burundi’s export earnings – and its ability to pay for imports – rest primarily on favorable weather conditions and international coffee and tea prices, although exports are a relatively small share of GDP. Burundi is heavily dependent on aid from bilateral and multilateral donors, as well as foreign exchange earnings from participation in the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Foreign aid represented 48% of Burundi’s national income in 2015, one of the highest percentages in Sub-Saharan Africa, but decreased to 33.5% in 2016 due to political turmoil surrounding President NKURUNZIZA’s bid for a third term.

A succession of adverse events, including suspension of financial aid by major donors, shortage of foreign exchange reserves, imports price inflation, and declining investment, seriously weakened the country’s economy, which contracted an estimated 1.3% in 2017. The economy, which depends heavily on agriculture, is expected to remain in recession until 2018 (0.3% decline in real GDP) before growing slightly in 2019 (1%). The suspension of foreign aid continues to hurt the budget, which posted an estimated deficit of 8.2% of GDP in 2017 despite higher taxes on commodities. The situation is likely to continue to deteriorate in the short term (with an 8.9% deficit projected in 2018 and a 9.1% deficit in 2019).

Inflation remains moderate at 6%, below the 8% convergence level agreed in the regional integration agreements of the East Africa Community (EAC). Extremely low foreign currency reserves are significantly restricting imports, including fuel and medicines, which are deemed priorities by the Government. The authorities are endeavoring to boost domestic resources to offset the loss of external budget support. Exchange rate pressures also persist. While Central Bank interventions in the foreign exchange market, including liquidity injections and restrictions on foreign exchange transactions, curtailed the depreciation of the official exchange rate to 5% in 2016, the parallel market premium soared from 25% in 2015 to 60% in 2016.

The current account deficit, which reached an estimated 11.6% of GDP in 2017, reflects restrictions on coffee and tea exports as well as insufficient foreign exchange reserves. Despite falling slightly, the current account deficit is projected to remain high in 2018 (10.4%) and 2019 (9.3%). Compounding these challenges is the steep downward trend of the Burundian franc, which will continue to exert pressure on consumer prices: inflation is projected to increase from an estimated 14.6% in 2017 to 15.7% in 2019. Domestic debt is expected to remain high, and external debt is expected to remain stable. Overall public debt is expected to climb to 67.8% of GDP in 2018 and 72.1% in 2019.

The sociopolitical and security crisis affecting Burundi is likely to weigh heavily on the economy and business climate. The World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business report ranked the country 164 out of 190 countries, down seven places from 2016. The shortage of aid and foreign funding, on which the economy heavily relies, will also hurt the budget balance; scarce funding for major public investment will slow growth. Finally, the economy depends heavily on agriculture, which accounts for more than a third of GDP, on commodity exports, and on fuel and food imports. This leaves Burundi highly vulnerable to external shocks, as demonstrated by the severe impact of adverse weather and external trade restrictions on export revenues and the trade balance.

 

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$7.985 billion (2017 est.)
$7.985 billion (2016 est.)
$8.069 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$3.393 billion (2017 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
0% (2017 est.)
-1% (2016 est.)
-4% (2015 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$800 (2017 est.)
$800 (2016 est.)
$900 (2015 est.)

Gross national saving:
-5.4% of GDP (2017 est.)
-4.1% of GDP (2016 est.)
-6.7% of GDP (2015 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 40%
industry: 16%
services: 44.1% (2017 est.)

Agriculture – products:
coffee, cotton, tea, corn, beans, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, cassava (manioc, tapioca); beef, milk, hides

Industries:
light consumer goods (sugar, shoes, soap, beer); cement, assembly of imported components; public works construction; food processing (fruits)

Population below poverty line:
64.6% (2014 est.)

Budget:
revenues: $607.6 million
expenditures: $748.9 million (2017 est.)

Burundi_Export_Treemap
Agriculture

Agriculture

About 90 percent of the population(Burundi) depends on agriculture for a living. Most agriculture consists of subsistence farming, with only about 15 percent of the total production marketed. Agriculture accounted for 51 percent of the GDP in 2004. Coffee and tea exports comprise the majority of foreign earnings; coffee alone accounted for 39 percent of exports of goods in 2004. Agricultural exports accounted for 48 percent of exports in 2004. Principal crops for local consumption are manioc, beans, bananas, sweet potatoes, corn, and sorghum.

Burundi has the potential to be self-sufficient in food but over 50 percent of children are chronically malnourished and in 2012 the country was ranked by the Global Hunger Index as having the highest level of hunger out of 79 countries worldwide. Burundi’s population is young and growing rapidly: nearly seven out of ten people are under 15 years old. Rapid population growth has led to a decline in average land holdings from over 1 hectare in 1973 to 0.5 hectares in 2009. The average population density is 257 people per square kilometer and if population growth continues at its current rate, Burundi’s population will double in the next 22 years.

Since war broke out in 1993, average per capita agricultural production has more than halved due to the conflict, crop theft, recurrent drought, torrential rains, pests, and deteriorating soils. Soil fertility is steadily declining because land is over-exploited, marginal lands are being used and farmers no longer leave fields fallow. Diminishing soil fertility is compounded by shrinking farm sizes, which is forcing people to clear forested land and drain wetlands. These practices are accelerating soil erosion on steep slopes, flooding in lowlands, depletion of water sources, sedimentation of lakes, drying of wetlands and biodiversity loss. Forest resources are also under pressure because wood provides 90 percent of energy needs: forest cover declined from 8.2 percent cover in 1992 to 6.3 percent in 2006.

Land fragmentation, stagnant or declining yields, falling soil fertility, the absence of inputs and improved breeds of livestock, and low levels of technical knowledge have prevented farmers from boosting production and increasing their incomes. Since 2002, more than 300,000 displaced people have returned to their birthplaces and original villages in Burundi. Issues of land ownership, and lack of land and other economic alternatives in agricultural activities complicate their reinsertion into the economy. The supply of dairy products is also far below what is required to meet the growing demand. If nothing is done to increase livestock production, the country could be facing annual deficits of 86 million tonnes of meat, 39 million liters of milk and 18 million eggs by 2020.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate agricultural constraints – including access to water, crop diseases, water pollution and soil erosion – and to impact food production. Climate change modeling predicts precipitation losses of 50-100mm by 2050 in the northern and eastern provinces, which are areas that have a history of intermittent drought. In the rest of the country, increases of 200mm are predicted, which is favorable for crop production but could increase the risk of flooding. Predicted temperature increases of over 1°C could reduce maize yields by 5-25 percent if technological improvements aren’t adopted, and this would significantly compromise food security.

Electricity access:
population without electricity: 9,700,000
electrification – total population: 5%
electrification – urban areas: 28%
electrification – rural areas: 2% (2013)

Electricity – production:
230 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
303.9 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
90 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
68,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
13.2% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)

Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 19,540
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
total: 5,357,816
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 47 (July 2016 est.)

Internet country code:
.bi

Internet Users
total: 574,236
percent of population: 5.2% (July 2016 est.)

Industry and Mining

The Burundi government is seeking to exploit the country’s extensive mineral potential although efforts to do so are constrained by civil strife, significant infrastructure gaps, high electricity costs and inadequate water supply. EIU notes that the government acquired a 15% share in Burundi Musongati Mining, majority-owned by UK-based Kermas Group, which began mining in April 2015 and has plans to produce 1 million tonnes of nickel a year. Burundi holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, with Musongati ranked as one of the 10 largest known deposits of the metal that has yet to be developed, according to the African Development Bank. The World Bank reports that majority of mineral extraction is carried out by artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) which is officially structured through cooperatives. Tin, tantalum, tungsten ( often referred to as the ‘3Ts’) and gold are the primary minerals mined and exported. The World Bank posits that improvements in the gold sector are where the Burundian Government stands to make the greatest gains though this would be complex to achieve and would need a very practical strategy grounded on market and trade realities.

Industrial activities are almost exclusively concentrated in Bujumbura and accounted for an estimated 18% of the GDP in 2001. The industrial sector transforms to varying degrees agricultural and forestry products: cotton, coffee, tea, vegetable oil, and woods. There are also several small plants for soft drinks, blankets, footwear, soap, insecticides, building materials, furniture, and metal goods. The future of industrial development is largely linked to the development of political stability and the growth of electric power and transportation, as well as improved commercial relations with neighboring countries.

Burundi has considerable mining deposits to be mentioned considering their reserves and contents: Mining deposit of Nickel of which the considerable reserves contain also very interesting associated metals by their content (copper, cobalt, platinum metal group), Deposit of Iron-Titan-Vanadium — this is the best mining deposit in world considering its reserves and high content, Deposit of Bastnaesite very rich in Europium. The actual mining exports include; gold, cassiterite, the Colombo-tantalite and the wolframite. There are also in Burundi some interesting deposits of non-metallic mines such as phosphate, carbonate, kaolin, feldspaths, peat, and limestone. Burundi has also some deposits of precious and half precious stones which can be interesting for the international market.

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Siège-de-la-BRB

Banking and Finance

Burundi has a relatively small developing financial sector which is dominated by banking with over 75% of total economy assets. Fortune of Africa reports that there are 10 commercial banks, two semi-governmental institutions, 11 insurance companies, 26 MFIs and National Bank of Economic Development. The Bank of the Republic of Burundi (BRB) regulates the financial sector and the insurance sector albeit small, with private and government-owned companies, is regulated by the Insurance Regulation and Control Agency which falls under the Ministry of Finance. The country is exposed to terms of trade shocks mainly from coffee and oil prices, which could impact banks through real sector effects. The banking system is also vulnerable to a decline in external assistance which funds nearly half of the government on which a large share of the economy depends. Burundi has not been directly affected by the international crisis, but second-round effects are likely to impact growth and foreign aid prospects.

Under most shocks to its loan portfolio, the banking sector capital adequacy ratio remains above the prudential standard. Banks also appear to resist well the shocks to the public enterprises and the coffee sector has given the low proportion of related loans in their portfolios. However, where the five largest debtors to default or a sizable share of loans to the trade sector to become nonperforming, several banks would have insufficient capital. Overall, banks with majority state ownership are the most vulnerable. Only about 1.9 percent of the total population hold bank accounts, 0.42 percent use bank lending services, and 4 percent are members of microfinance institutions. There is little diversification in the financial products offered by banks. The banks generally have no units devoted to SMEs. Most SMEs have difficulty obtaining loans for a number of reasons, the two most important of which are the unavailability of the tangible collateral sought by banks and the absence of reliable information on borrowers.

According to Fortune of Africa, Burundi has not yet established a stock market to mobilize funds for investments and it is only BRB which uses 91-day treasury bills to manage liquidity within the sector. Moreover, the national pension system (INSS) covers only 5% of the people and accounts for about 5% of total financial assets. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) have experienced rapid growth over recent years with 4% of Burundians being members of MFIs. The financial sector in general, however, faces several challenges such as the need to strengthen the bank supervisory role of BRB, lack of experienced locals to manage the sector, lack of facilities offering capacity building and the need for reforms in the sector to effectively serve the community.

 

Tourism

Burundi has a great deal to offer tourists, including mountainous landscapes, natural parks, wildlife and access to one of Africa’s largest lakes. The country’s travel and tourism industry, however, remains undeveloped and only contributes marginally to the country’s GDP. Visitor numbers have only increased marginally since the peace agreement was set up in 2001. In comparison with its neighbor Rwanda, a country with a similar sad history of ethnic violence, Burundi is still lingering on the starting blocks when it comes to attracting tourists.

Ecotourism is a niche area of travel and tourism in Burundi but has great potential to attract visitors. The national conservation areas, including Kibira National Park, Ruvubu, and Lake Tanganyika, all offer unique natural habitats for wildlife. In addition, the country also holds a number of flourishing wildfowl lakes, such as the Rwihinda Lake Natural Reserve, which is a sanctuary for migratory, aquatic birds and has strong potential to attract many visitors. Plans by the government to boost nature-based tourism will help open up new tourist areas and, as a result, stimulate growth in tourism in Burundi. Poor infrastructure, however, remains a hindrance to the tourism sector.

Place of Attractions

Bujumbura’s Lake Tanganyika beaches are some of the best urban beaches of any landlocked country in Africa. The sand, though not exactly pristine white and clean, is still an inviting place to drop a towel, the swimming is safe and the water warm.

As is pretty much standard with French cultural institutes the world over, this one hosts a diverse and exciting array of cultural events which take in everything from art-house films to exhibitions and food-related events (it’s French, after all). The website lists upcoming events, or you can pick up a brochure from the more upmarket hotels and restaurants. You don’t need to be French to attend.

The Chutes de la Karera is the collective name for the four beautiful waterfalls near Rutana. The prettiest is the cascade Nyakai I where you park your car. Upstream from this is the smallest of the four falls, Nyakai II, an ideal spot for an impromptu shower. This watercourse is joined by that of Mwaro Falls before creating the namesake and tallest waterfall in the area, Karera Falls.

Vying with another small spring in Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda for the title of the source of the Nile (the truth of the matter is that there’s no one source), this insignificant-looking little spring at Kasumo, 115km southeast of Bujumbura, might be the southernmost source du Nil. In a nice touch, a stone pyramid marks the site, but unless you have your own transport it is almost impossible to reach.

Located just outside of Bujumbura is the fascinating Rusizi River, National Park. The plains surrounding the river are flooded periodically, bringing hundreds of animals to the area for his vital life source. Hippos are just one of the many animals to frequent the area and are one of the most sought after by tourists. The park, with its clear skies, is a true bird-watchers paradise. The migratory birds that visit the park include rare and beautiful species from both Asia and Europe such as sandpipers and plovers.

  • Prehistory

    The early history of Burundi, and especially the role and nature of the country’s three dominant ethnic groups; the Twa, Hutu, and Tutsi, is highly debated amongst academics. What is important to remember is that the nature of culture and ethnic groups is always fluid and changing. While the groups might have migrated to the area at different times and as distinctly different ethnic groups, the current distinctions are contemporary socio-cultural constructs. In recent Burundi history, these divisions have been used for political mobilization. This means that there is the reality of everyday life no clear boundaries between the different groups, but the identities of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa are emphasized and made distinct when the political situation calls for it. There is, however, evidence for that the groups settled in the area of Burundi at different times and in different waves. It is believed that the Twa was the earliest people in the area, and were predominantly hunters and gatherers. It is estimated that the first Bantu speaking peoples settled in the area which now constitutes Burundi in about 800 CE.

    The Tutsi, a nomadic pastoral people, gradually subjugated the Hutu and other inhabitants of the region, although they adopted the Hutu language, as did the Twa so that all three groups were Bantu-speaking. A feudal social system based on caste—the conquering Tutsi and the subjected Hutu—became the dominant feature of social hierarchy, and especially of economic and political relations. The Hutu did the farming and grew the food in return for cattle, but generally had no part in government. The Tutsi were the ruling caste and did no manual labor. To a certain extent, however, the castes were open to each other. Custom allowed a particularly worthy Twa or Hutu to rise to the rank of a Tutsi; conversely, an impoverished Tutsi who had fallen from his former estate could be assimilated into the Hutu.

    The penetration of an eventual conquest by the Tutsi was reported as a slow and peaceful process that initiated a process of political integration. The ownership of land was gradually transferred from the Hutu tribes to the Mwami, the semi-divine king of the Tutsi. The first Mwami, Ntare I Rushatsi, is thought to have come to power in the 16th century. While the ruling Mwami Twa, in theory, an absolute king, he was often regarded as primus inter pares among the Ganwa, prince-like aristocrats of royal lineage. But the Mwami had his court and his army, and he could not easily be removed from office.

  • The Burundi Kingdom

    The earliest state with a direct continuity with the modern state of Burundi was the Kingdom of Burundi. The kingdom was founded sometime around the 16th century CE. Some academics believe that a shortage of land created an increased conflict over cattle to be used as lobola and that this created a class of warriors amongst the mainly Tutsi people who practiced pastoralism. This warrior class would dominate the mostly farming Hutu people and founded the Kingdom of Burundi. After a period of expansion, the Kingdom of Burundi cemented its borders in the late 1600 CE. The kings of Burundi was referred to as Mwami, meaning ruler. The kingdom was strictly hierarchical and ruled by a king with several princes beneath him. The royal court was made up of the Tutsi-Banyaruguru and they had a higher social status than other pastoralists such as the Tutsi-Hima. In the lower levels of this society was generally Hutu people, and at the very bottom was the Twa. The system had some fluidity however and some Hutu people belonged to the nobility and had some say in the functions of the state.

    The king, known as the Mwami (translated as the ruler) headed a princely aristocracy (Ganwa) which owned most of the land and required a tribute, or tax, from local farmers (mainly Hutu) and herders (mainly Tutsi). The Kingdom of Burundi was characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. In the mid-18th century, the 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. By this time, the royal court was made up of the Tutsi-Banyaruguru, they had a higher social status than other pastoralists such as the Tutsi-Hima. In the lower levels of this society were generally Hutu people, and at the very bottom of the pyramid was the Twa. The system had some fluidity however, some Hutu people belonged to the nobility and in this way also had a say in the functioning of the state.

    The classification of Hutu or Tutsi was not merely based on ethnic criteria alone. Hutu farmers that managed to acquire wealth and livestock were regularly granted the higher social status of Tutsi, some even made it become close advisors of the Ganwa. On the other hand, there are also reports of Tutsi that lost all their cattle and subsequently lost their higher status and were called Hutu. Thus, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi was also a socio-cultural concept, instead of a purely ethnic one. There were also many reports of marriages between Hutu and Tutsi people. In general, regional ties and tribal power struggles played a far more determining role in Burundi’s politics than ethnicity.

  • Colonial German

    European explorers and missionaries made brief visits to the area as early as 1856, and they compared the organization of the kingdom of Burundi with that of the old Greek empire. 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 IV Gisabo opposed all European influence, refusing to wear European clothing and resisting the advance of European missionaries or administrators. In 1871, Stanley and Livingstone landed at Bujumbura and explored the Ruzizi River region.

    From 1884, the German East Africa Company was active in the African Great Lakes region. As a result of heightened tensions and border disputes between the German East Africa Company, the British Empire and the Sultanate of Zanzibar, the German Empire was called upon to put down the Abushiri revolts and protect the empire’s interests in the region. The German East Africa Company transferred its rights to the German Empire in 1891, in this way establishing the German colony of German East Africa, which included Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of Tanzania (formerly known as Tanganyika). The German Empire stationed armed forces in Ruanda and Burundi during the late 1880s. The location of the present-day city of Gitega served as an administrative center for the Ruanda-Urundi region.

    Subsequently, other explorers, principally German, visited Burundi. After the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, the German zone of influence in East Africa was extended to include Rwanda and Burundi. The Kingdom of Burundi lost its independence after they were conquered by Germany in the late 19th century. The German Empire established their first military post in Burundi in 1896. After 1899 Burundi was known as the military district of Ruanda-Urundi under German colonial rule. Both German and Belgian colonial occupiers continued to rule indirectly through local kings. The last King of an independent Kingdom of Burundi was Mwami Ntare V. The Europeans did, however, bring devastating diseases affecting both people and animals. Affecting the entire region, Burundi was especially hard hit.

  • Colonial Belgium

    After the WWI, Burundi was transferred to the Belgian Empire under a League of Nations mandate after the German Empire lost in the first World War (the Great European War). The transfer took place legally on the 20 October 1924From 1925 Ruanda-Urundi is linked with the neighboring Belgian Congo, but colonial rule takes a very different form in the two territories. Both the Belgian and German empires ruled Burundi through local kings in a colonial system known as indirect rule. The colonial occupiers had final say, but local chiefs and the king had a say in issues of land and over lower sub-chiefdoms. Some scholars believe that the categories of Twa, Hutu, and Tutsi, was based upon wealth and profession up until this pointThe administration of the Congo is centered in Brussels, but in Ruanda-Urundi, it is left in the hands of the Tutsi aristocracy. Indeed the Belgians, observing the distinction between Tutsi and Hutu, make it the very basis of their colonial system.

    From 1933 everyone in Ruanda-Urundi is issued with a racial identity card, defining them as Hutu (85%) or Tutsi (14%). The remaining 1% are the Twa, the remnants of the original Pygmies indigenous in this area. This Belgian attitude, setting in stone the distinction between the two groups and favoring one of them, prepares the ground for future violence (in earlier times racially based massacres have never occurred between Hutu and Tutsi). The predictable occasion for its outbreak is the rush towards independence in the late 1950s. The problem is more immediately evident in Ruanda than in Urundi. In 1957 Hutu leaders in Ruanda publish a Hutu Manifesto, preparing their supporters for a future political conflict to be conducted entirely on ethnic lines. In 1959 the first outbreak of violence is sparked off when a group of Tutsi political activists in Gitirama beat up a Hutu rival, Dominique Mbonyumutwa.

    At the end of World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations trust territory, but the Belgians were essentially left to run the show. The Belgians, in turn, continued to support mission education and also ruled through the local Tutsi chiefs. In 1955, the Belgians finally moved to end the Ubugabire system, though they only pressured the Tutsi rulers to phase it out gradually. In Urundi the Tutsi monarchy proves at first more resilient, both in holding on to the reins of power and in attempting a resolution of the Tutsi-Hutu conflict. When elections are held in 1961, they bring a landslide victory for a joint Hutu and Tutsi party. It is led by the popular Prince Rwagasore, the eldest son of the Mwami. He is assassinated a few months later before independence has been formally achieved. But this disaster does not yet tip Urundi into ethnic violence.

  • Independent Burundi

    Burundi’s push for independence was influenced by the Rwandan Revolution and the accompanying instability and ethnic conflict that occurred there. As a result of the Rwandan Revolution, many Rwandan Tutsi refugees arrived in Burundi during the period from 1959 to 1961. Burundi’s first elections took place on 8 September 1961 and UPRONA, a multi-ethnic unity party led by Prince Louis Rwagasore won just over 80% of the electorate’s votes. In the wake of the elections, on 13 October, the 29-year-old Prince Rwagasore was assassinated, robbing Burundi of its most popular and well-known nationalist. The country claimed independence on 1 July 1962 and legally changed its name from Ruanda-Urundi to Burundi. Burundi became a constitutional monarchy with Mwami Mwambutsa IV, Prince Rwagasore’s father, serving as the country’s king.

    In June 1993, Melchior Ndadaye, leader of the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), won the first democratic election. He became the first Hutu head of state, leading a pro-Hutu government. In October 1993, Tutsi soldiers assassinated Ndadaye, an act which resulted in a genocide against Tutsi, which led to years of violence between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi majority army. It is estimated that some 300,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the years following the assassination. On February 28, 2005, Burundians voted in a national referendum for the implementation of a post-transitional constitution. Pierre Nkurunziza was elected the first post-transitional president of Burundi in elections held in the summer of 2005. Nkurunziza was re-elected in 2010 and sought to be re-elected again in 2015.

    In April 2015 protests broke out after the ruling party announced President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office. Protestors claimed Nkurunziza could not run for a third term in office but the country’s constitutional court agreed with the President (although some of its members had fled the country at the time of its vote). An attempted coup d’état on 13 May failed to depose Nkurunziza. He returned to Burundi, began purging his government, and arrested several of the coup leaders. Following the attempted coup, protests however continued and over 100,000 people had fled the country by 20 May causing a humanitarian emergency. There are reports of continued and widespread abuses of human rights, including unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, and restrictions on freedom of expression.