Burundi is a landlocked country in the African Great Lakes region of East Africa, bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. It is considered part of Central Africa. Burundi’s capital is Bujumbura. The southwestern border is adjacent to Lake Tanganyika.
The Twa, Hutu and Tutsi peoples have lived in Burundi for at least five hundred years. For more than 200 years, Burundi was an independent kingdom. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany colonized the region. After the First World War and Germany’s defeat, it ceded the territory to Belgium. The Belgians ruled Burundi and Rwanda as a European colony known as Ruanda-Urundi. Their intervention exacerbated social differences between the Tutsi and Hutu, and contributed to political unrest in the region. Burundi gained independence in 1962 and initially had a monarchy, but a series of assassinations, coups, and a general climate of regional instability culminated in the establishment of a republic and one-party state in 1966. Bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and again in the 1990s left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest. 2015 witnessed large-scale political strife as President Pierre Nkurunziza opted to run for a third term in office, a coup attempt failed and the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections were broadly criticized by members of the international community.
In late April 1972, two events led to the outbreak of the First Burundian Genocide. On April 27, 1972, a rebellion led by some Hutu members of the gendarmerie broke out in the lakeside towns of Rumonge and Nyanza-Lac and the rebels declared the short-lived Martyazo Republic. The rebels attacked Tutsi and Hutu who refused to join their rebellion. It is estimated that during this initial Hutu outbreak, anywhere from 800 to 1200 people were killed. At the same time, King Ntare V of Burundi returned from exile, heightening political tension in the country. On 29 April 1972, the 24-year-old Ntare V was murdered and in the subsequent months, the Tutsi-dominated government of Micombero used the army to combat the Hutu rebels and commit genocide in which they targeted members of the Hutu majority. The total number of casualties was never established, but contemporary estimates show that between 80,000 to 210,000 people were killed. In addition, several hundred thousand Hutu are estimated to have fled the genocide into Zaïre, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
Following the civil war and genocide, Micombero became mentally distraught and withdrawn. In 1976, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, a Tutsi, led a bloodless coup and toppled Micombero. He then set about promoting various reforms. His administration drafted a new constitution in 1981, which maintained Burundi as a one-party state. In August 1984, Bagaza was elected head of state. During his tenure, Bagaza suppressed political opponents and religious freedoms.
Major Pierre Buyoya (Tutsi) overthrew Bagaza in 1987 and suspended the constitution, dissolving the political parties. He reinstated military rule under the Military Committee for National Salvation (CSMN). Anti-Tutsi ethnic propaganda disseminated by the remnants of the 1972 UBU, which had re-organized as PALIPEHUTU in 1981, led to killings of Tutsi peasants in the northern communes of Ntega and Marangara in August 1988. The death toll was put at 5,000 by the government, though some international NGOs believe this understates the losses.
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. Initially the South African Protection Support Detachment was deployed to protect Burundian leaders returning from exile. These forces became part of the African Union Mission to Burundi, 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 United Nations 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. It has greatly benefited from the transitional government, which has functioned and is in the process of transitioning to one that will be popularly elected.
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 who 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. Despite calls by the UN, AU, U.S., France, South Africa, Belgium and various other governments, the ruling party held parliamentary elections on 29 June but these were boycotted by the opposition.