The country falls into three main geographic regions. The narrow area in the west, which includes the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika, is part of the western branch of the Great Rift Valley and includes some lowland. To the east of this region are mountains, which run north-south and reach an altitude of c.8,800 ft (2,680 m). Farther east is a region of broken plateaus with somewhat lower elevations (c.4,5006,000 ft/1,3701,830 m), where most of the population lives.
In the early 14th century, the Hutu arrived, probably from the Congo Basin, and imposed their language and customs on the Twa, who are believed to be Burundis original inhabitants. The development of an organized kingdom began in the 15th century, when the Tutsi, probably migrating from the north, established themselves as feudal rulers.
Tutsi kings, or mwamis, became monarchs of distinct kingdoms in Burundi and Rwanda. Their rule was enforced by chiefs and subchiefs, who each ruled an umusozi, a fiefdom consisting of a single hill.
In 1890, Burundi (along with Rwanda) became part of German East Africa, but the Germans began to govern the area in 1897. During World War I, Belgian forces occupied (1916) Burundi, and in 1919 it became part of the Belgian League of Nations mandate of Ruanda-Urundi (which in 1946 became a UN trust territory). Under the German and Belgian administrations Christianity was spread, but the traditional social structure of Burundi was not altered, and there was little economic development.
Full independence was achieved on July 1, 1962. In the context of weak democratic institutions at independence, Tutsi King Mwambutsa IV established a constitutional monarchy comprising equal numbers of Hutus and Tutsis. The 1965 assassination of the Hutu prime minister set in motion a series of destabilizing Hutu revolts and subsequent governmental repression. In 1966, King Mwambutsa was deposed by his son, Prince Ntare IV, who himself was deposed the same year by a military coup lead by Capt. Michel Micombero. Micombero abolished the monarchy and declared a republic, although a de facto military regime emerged. In 1972, an aborted Hutu rebellion triggered the flight of hundreds of thousands of Burundians. Civil unrest continued throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1976, Col. Jean-Baptiste Bagaza took power in a bloodless coup. Although Bagaza led a Tutsi-dominated military regime, he encouraged land reform, electoral reform, and national reconciliation. In 1981, a new Constitution was promulgated and in 1984, Bagaza was elected head of state, as the sole candidate. After his election, Bagaza's human rights record deteriorated as he suppressed religious activities and detained political opposition members.
Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi who became Burundi's head of state after a coup in 1987, introduced reforms designed to lessen ethnic divisions. Buyoya appointed a majority of Hutus to the cabinet, including the prime minister, and encouraged enlistment of Hutus in the military. Many Hutus fled Burundi after massacres in 1988 and settled in Tanzania. By mid-1989, however, most of them had returned.
A new constitution adopted in 1992 provided for a multiparty political system; in the 1993 elections, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, defeated Buyoya to win the nation's first free presidential election. Soon afterward he was overthrown and killed in a coup attempt by Tutsi soldiers. Burundi was convulsed by ethnic violence in which thousands of Hutus and Tutsis died, and many fled the country. The coup collapsed, but civilian authority was restored slowly, and sporadic violence continued. In Apr., 1994, Cyprien Ntaryamira, a Hutu who had been chosen as president by parliament, was killed with the president of Rwanda when their plane crashed, possibly having been shot down. He was succeeded by Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, an ethnic Hutu, while a new power-sharing arrangement provided for a Tutsi prime minister.
Ntibantunganya, however, was unable to exercise control over the army. Fighting between Hutu militants, who had taken up arms after the 1993 coup and won control of much of NW Burundi, and Tutsi soldiers persisted, along with a high rate of civilian casualties and the continued flight of Hutus from the country. In July, 1996, the army overthrew the government, and Pierre Buyoya was once again installed as president. Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania applied economic sanctions against the country in the wake of the coup but lifted them in 1999 as talks between the warring factions progressed. In Dec., 1999, Nelson Mandela was appointed by a group of African nations to act as a mediator in the conflict. An accord was reached in 2000, but some aspects of the agreement were left incomplete. In addition, two Hutu rebel groups refused to sign the accord, and young army officers unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow Buyoya twice in 2001.
In July, 2001, the Arusha accords, a Tutsi-Hutu power-sharing agreement, were finalized. Under them, Buyoya remained president, with a Hutu vice president (Domitien Ndayizeye), for 18 months; the new government was installed in Nov., 2001. Fighting with the Hutu rebel groups remained unaffected by both the accord and a Dec., 2002, cease-fire agreement with one of the rebel groups.
Ndayizeye succeeded Buyoya as transitional president in Apr., 2003, also for an 18-month term. Alphonse Kadege, a Tutsi, became vice president. At the same time, African Union observers began arriving in Burundi to monitor the peace. A peace accord with the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), the main rebel group, was finalized in Nov., 2003, and FDD representatives joined the government the next month. The smaller Forces for National Liberation (FNL) meanwhile continued attacks on the army. In Jan., 2004, the FNL participated in talks with the government for the first time, but no progress was made. In May, 2004, there were tensions between the FDD and the main Tutsi and Hutu parties in the government, and the FDD withdrew from the government for several months. The United Nations took over peacekeeping duties from the African Union the following month.
A constitution proposed in July was not signed by Tutsi parties, who wanted a guarantee that the presidency would alternate between Hutus and Tutsis and objected to the way seats were assigned in the legislature. Although a disproportionately large number of seats and government posts were guaranteed to Tutsi candidates, none of those seats were guaranteed to the candidates of Tutsi parties. The disagreement led to a cabinet boycott by the parties and stalled movement toward national elections, which were postponed until 2005. In Feb., 2005, however, the proposed constitution was overwhelmingly approved by Burundi's voters.
In Apr., 2005, the transitional period for the government was extended to Aug., 2005. The FNL agreed to a truce with government forces in May, but clashes continued to occur, and both sides were accused of violating the cease-fire. The FDD won a majority of the seats in May's local council elections, a victory that prefigured its win in the June national assembly elections. Pierre Nkurunziza, leader of the FDD, was elected president of Burundi in August. The following month the FNL rejected holding peace talks with the new government.
Below is an analysis of Burundi according to The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:
Category: Mostly Unfree
Total area: 27,830 sq. km
GDP: $722 million
GDP growth rate: -1.2%
GDP per capita: $100
Major exports: coffee and tea, sugar, manufacturers, hides
Exports of goods and services: $87 million
Major export trading partners: Switzerland 32.0%, UK 16.4%, Rwanda 5.7%, Netherlands 4.3%
Major imports: capital goods, food, consumer goods
Imports of goods and services: $187 million
Major import trading partners: Kenya 14.4%, Tanzania 11.7%, Uganda 5.9%, Zambia 5.2%
Foreign direct investment (net): n/a
The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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