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Map of Burundi from the CIA World Factbook.

The Republic of Burundi is a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa, bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the southeast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the West. Burundi is occupied by three major ethnicities, the Twa, Hutu, and Tutsi peoples; due to conflicting interests between the Tutsi and Hutu, social tensions have risen and attributed to political unrest and civil war within the region. Even though Burundi has existed since the sixteenth century, Burundi lacks an expansive written history, and much of our understanding of Burundian history primarily lies from a mix of oral history and archaeology.

Much due to the advice of the highly influential Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, Germany did not devote much of its time and resources to colonization. However, in 1885, The German Empire colonized in remote locations in East Africa and held domain over a region that consists of modern day Rwanda and Burundi. Burundi was greatly affected by Germany’s colonies, Burundian rulers initially opposed German rule, which resulted in great damage to the country by German forces.

Germany’s control over Burundi waned as Belgian troops from the Congo conquered the region in 1916, and completely dissolved when Germany was stripped of its colonies and in the aftermath of World War 1, and handed the land to Belgium in 1919. From 1916 to 1924, the part of German East Africa that was conquered by the Belgians formed a region called Ruanda-Urundi. A small region to the east of what would eventually become the Belgian colonial empire.

On October 20, 1924, the region became a Belgian League of Nations mandate territory, a part of the Belgian colonial empire. The Ruanda-Urundi monarchy was allowed to continue under Belgian control. Belgium had a much larger presence in their colonies than their German predecessors.

The mandate continued until 1945, when the region became the United Nations Trust Territory of Ruanda-Urundi after the dissolution of the League of Nations. It was still under Belgian control, but only on the promise that Belgium would prepare the areas for independence. Independence movements in the Belgian Congo resulted in a sense of insecurity in Belgium. They feared that they would no longer be able to control over their colonies and in 1962; the colony of Ruanda-Urundi became independent on July 1962. A border was drawn between the region, forming the two countries of Rwanda and Burundi.

Once Burundi achieved independence, Burundi established a constitutional monarchy as well as a parliament. Burundi’s parliament was primarily represented by the three major ethnicities. In 1965, the Hutu candidates launched a failed coup against the monarchy for they felt the Hutus were not being represented fairly in parliament.

In 1972, there was another genocide in southern Burundi between the Hutu and Tutsi. It began when bands of Hutu hunted and killed military and civilian Tutsis alike, wiping out entire cities of Tutsis. This sparked a violent retaliation from the Tutsi-dominated government that resulted in the deaths of over two hundred thousand Hutus and three hundred thousand refugees.

Another genocide broke out in 1988 between the ruling Tutsis and majority Hutus. This genocide lead to the deaths of an estimated 150,000 people and tens of thousands of fleeing refugees.

In October 1990, Rwandan exiles that were primarily Tutsi, invaded the Hutu-governed Rwanda for the next three years. The war finally ended with a peace agreement championed by the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity; of these groups, Burundi was also represented at the meetings. The peace would not last, however. In April 1994, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were en route to the Rwandan capital of Kigali and their plane was shot down. Both leaders died and violence broke out around the capital.

In 1993, just before the genocide in Rwanda broke out, the Tutsi-dominated country of Burundi had elected Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi’s first Hutu president. Ndadaye’s presidency had not lasted long, in October 21, 1993,only a few months after his election, Ndadaye was assassinated. This was amidst months of prior rioting between gangs of Hutus and Tutsis in Bujumbara, Burundi’s capital.

After Ndadaye’s assassination, some members of the Hutu political party, “Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi” gathered together and killed nearly as many as twenty five thousand Tutsis.  In Kibimba in October 21, 1993, a small village that borders on the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, over a hundred Tutsi students were taken from a school and led into a gas chamber and burned alive by a group of Hutu soldiers.

In 1995, the United Nations procured an international investigation called the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi that lasted for one year. The purpose of the investigation was to find out more about the assassination of president Ndadaye and the ensuing violence that broke out in Burundi. The commission concluded that the violence against the Tutsi minority took place after the assassination of president Ndadaye and that some members of the Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) were found responsible, and leaders as high as the commune level were involved. Concurrently, the commission concluded that indiscriminate killing of Hutus was carried out by members of the Burundian Army and Gendarmerie, and by Tutsi civilians. No effort was made by the military authorities at any level to prevent, investigate or punish such acts.

Starting in 1998 and finally coming to an unsuccessful end in August 2000, the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement aimed to bring a truce between the Tutsis and Hutus. Facilitated by Nelson Mandela in Tanzania, the agreement, along with the goal of establishing a transitional government and equal representation of both Hutus and Tutsis broke down after Hutu representatives refused to sign the agreement.

In an attempt to quell the violence, the United Nations sent roughly 5,600 armed forces in Burundi in June 2004 and they stayed until December of 2006; with the objective to stop the civil war and create a sustainable peace between the two sides. In the end, the UN representatives and Hutu and Tutsi representatives signed the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement in Tanzania in September of 2006. However, peace was not widespread and remote instances of violence still continued.

After the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement was created, the Dar Es Salaam Agreement of Principles towards Lasting Peace, Security and Stability in Burundi was formed in 2006. In this agreement, the two sides agreed to aim to stop the violence, as well as the formation of the Truth, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Commission. The last major piece of legislature has created a lasting amount of controversy: The members of the Palipehutu-FNL, the Hutu’s last fighting rebel force shall enjoy provisional immunity, and the defense and security forces shall respect the national reconciliation process. Peace throughout Burundi has been relatively unstable throughout the last two decades, and even though violence still persists in smaller, contained events, Burundi has seen it’s most peaceful years ever since the civil wars started in 1993.

In 2002, the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry labeled the 1993 mass killing of Tutsi as genocide. Starting with the events of the genocide, Burundi broke out into a civil war, which leads to the deaths of nearly three hundred thousand people and the displacement of roughly five hundred and fifty thousand Burundians. The civil war in Burundi broke out in 1993 and lasted until 2005.

Recommended Resources


Henri Boyi Professor, University of Western Ontario  
Apollinaire Ndayizeye Burundi Survivor  

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