Burundi country profile

Map of Burundi

Map of Burundi

Burundi, one of the world’s poorest nations, is struggling to emerge from a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war.

The country’s early history and role of the three main ethnic groups – the Twa, Hutu and Tutsi – is highly debated.

Since independence in 1962 it has been plagued by periodically violent tensions between the usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.

A civil war, sparked off in 1993 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts.

  • Capital: Gitega (political), Bujumbura (economic)

  • Area: 27,834 sq km

  • Population: 11.8 million

  • Languages: Kirundi, French, English

  • Life expectancy: 62 years (men and women)

President: Evariste Ndayishimiye

Burundi's President Évariste Ndayishimiye

Burundi’s President √Čvariste Ndayishimiye

Evariste Ndayishimiye took office in June 2020, a week after President Pierre Nkurunziza died suddenly in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Ndayishimiye had won the May presidential election, and was due to take office in August.

The opposition condemned the election, in which Mr Ndayishimiye had the backing of his fellow former Hutu rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza, as rigged. Mr Nkurunziza was the first president to be chosen in democratic elections since the start of Burundi’s civil war.

The damaged facade of Burundi's main independent radio station African Public Radio (RPA, Radio Publique Africaine) in Bujumbura, after it was attacked by supporters of President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2015

Burundi’s main independent radio station African Public Radio, damaged during the attempted coup in 2015

State-run outlets dominate the media. Journalists operate under strict press laws and face harassment over their coverage.

US-based NGO Freedom House says: “Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed but severely restricted in practice by draconian press laws and a dangerous operating environment for media workers.”

Many journalists have fled the country since 2015. Radio is the main source of information for many Burundians. Many privately-owned stations were shut after the 2015 coup attempt.

A general view of a street near the city market in Bujumbura, Burundi, on March 14, 2022

The commercial capital, Bujumbura. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations in terms of GDP per capita, according to the World Bank

Some key dates in Burundi’s history:

16th Century – Emergence of the Burundian state. Over the following centuries, the Kingdom of Burundi or Urundi expands, annexing smaller neighbours.

1884 – German East Africa Company is active in the African Great Lakes region.

1890 – The kingdoms of Urundi (Burundi) and neighbouring Ruanda (Rwanda) are incorporated into German East Africa.

1914-18 – World War One: East African campaign see German forces defeated by British, Belgian and allied troops. Belgian army occupies both Burundi and Rwanda in 1916.

1922 – Ruanda-Urundi becomes a Belgian League of Nations mandate.

1959 – Influx of Tutsi refugees from Rwanda following ethnic violence.

1962 – Burundi and Rwanda become independent as separate nations.

1965 – Parliamentary elections see Hutus win a majority in parliament, but King Mwambutsa appoints a Tutsi prime minister. #

Hutu-dominated police attempt coup. The Tutsi-dominated army, led by Michel Micombero, carry out reprisals in which up to 5,000 people are killed.

1966 – Michel Micombero carries out coup, abolishes the monarchy and declares himself president. He promotes African socialism and receives support from China.

1972 – Hutu-led uprising in the south. The Tutsi-dominated government uses the army to combat the Hutu rebels, killing between 80,000 and 210,000 people. Thousands of Hutus flee to Zaire (now DR Congo), Rwanda and Tanzania.

1976 – President Micombero is deposed in a military coup by Jean-Baptiste Bagaza.

1981 – A new constitution makes Burundi a one-party state under Uprona.

1987 – President Bagaza is deposed in a coup led by Pierre Buyoya.

1988 – Some Burundi Hutu refugees make an incursion from Rwanda into northern Burundi and massacre Tutsis. Thousands of Hutus are killed in subsequent military reprisals.

1992 – New constitution providing for a multiparty system is adopted in a referendum.

1993 – Melchior Ndadaye, leader of the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu), wins first democratic elections and becomes first Hutu head of state, leading a pro-Hutu government. He is assassinated in a failed military coup after three months in office.

1993-2005 – Burundi Civil War: In revenge, some Frodebu members massacre Tutsis, and the Tutsi-dominated army begins reprisals. Burundi is plunged into an ethnic conflict which claims some 300,000 lives. The question of whether the killings of Tutsis arose from a planned genocide or from spontaneous violence remains heavily disputed.

1994 – Parliament appoints Hutu Cyprien Ntaryamira, as president. Aircraft carrying Ntaryamira and Rwanda’s President Juv√©nal Habyarimana is shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali, killing everyone and triggering genocide in Rwanda in which 800,000 are killed. Parliament speaker Sylvestre Ntibantunganya appointed president.

1995 – Massacre of Hutu refugees leads to renewed ethnic violence in the capital, Bujumbura.

1996 – Ex-president Pierre Buyoya again seizes power in a coup.

2001 – South Africa-brokered talks lead to installation of transitional government, but main Hutu rebel groups refuse to sign a peace deal and fighting intensifies.

2003 – Domitien Ndayizeye – a Hutu – succeeds Pierre Buyoya as president, under terms of three-year, power-sharing transitional government inaugurated in 2001.

President Ndayizeye and Hutu rebel group Forces for Defence of Democracy (FDD) leader Pierre Nkurunziza sign agreement to end the civil war. Smaller Hutu rebel group, Forces for National Liberation (FNL), remains active.

2004 – UN force takes over peacekeeping duties from African Union troops.

2006 – The last major rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL) and government sign a ceasefire. Sporadic clashes recur over the next two years.

2007 – UN ends peacekeeping mission and refocuses its operations on helping with reconstruction.

2009 – FNL lays down arms and officially becomes a political party.

2010 – President Nkurunziza re-elected in uncontested poll after main opposition parties boycott the vote.

2013 – Former FNL reber leader Agathon Rwasa, resurfaces after three years in hiding and says he will stand in the 2015 presidential election.

2015 – Constitutional Court rules in favour of President Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for a third term, which sees him again elected. Opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describes the result as a “joke”.

2015-2018 – Prolonged unrest and fighting between army and rebel groups in Burundi sees over 400,000 refugees flee to neighbouring countries.

2017 – Burundi becomes the first country to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC).

2018 – Burundi issues international arrest warrant for former president Pierre Buyoya over killing of President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993. Buyoya’s supporters say move is politically motivated.

2019 – Capital moved to Gitega, although Bujumbura remains the commercial capital.

2020 – Former Hutu rebel leader Evariste Ndayishimiye takes office as president, a week after President Pierre Nkurunziza dies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Burundian soldier in Somalia

Burundian troops have been part of an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia

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