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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
For centuries the Hutu, who are Bantu in origin, and the Tutsi, who are Hamitic, have lived together in Burundi and Rwanda. Historically—though Hutu represent the majority of the population—Tutsi have been politically and economically dominant. During Belgium’s occupation of the two countries (then called Ruanda-Urundi), from 1923 to 1962, the Belgians administered the territory through indirect rule, bolstering the pre-existing Tutsi-dominated aristocratic hierarchy.
After Burundi achieved its independence, the Tutsi king Mwambutsa IV created a constitutional monarchy composed of both Hutu and Tutsi, but the 1965 assassination of the Hutu prime minister, which led to a series Hutu revolts and subsequent government repression, squelched any hope for national reconciliation or peace. The following ten years brought rebellion, coups, and the displacement of thousands of Burundians. In 1976, Col. Jean-Baptiste Bagaza
, a Tutsi, seized power in a bloodless coup, promising reform and unity between Tutsi and Hutu. Yet, after Bagaza was formally elected head of state, he changed his tune and began suppressing oppositional views. In 1987, Maj. Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, overthrew Bagaza and abolished opposition parties.
Over the next several years, rising tensions between the army, the Hutu opposition, and Tutsi hardliners led to the deaths of an estimated 150,000 and the displacement of thousands of Burundians. In 1993, after Buyoya approved a constitution that provided for a multiethnic government, Burundi’s first Hutu president, Melchior Mdadaye, was elected, only to be assassinated shortly after that by Tutsi forces. A full-blown civil war ensued that soon spread to Rwanda, prompting waves of genocide. The civil war came to an end in 2006 with a South Africa–backed ceasefire.
In the country’s recent elections, which many hoped would signal a new era of peace, old divisions once again became apparent. Opposition parties withdrew, claiming foul play (observers from the European Union and civil-liberties groups insist the election was fair), and the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu and one of Africa’s youngest leaders, won in a landslide. At this point, the future is unclear for Burundi, a tiny country with more than 40 political parties, but a pattern of civil unrest is proving difficult to break.
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1. Situated slightly south of the equator, Burundi is bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. The small, mountainous country is roughly the same size as the state of Maryland and is split into 17 provinces—Bubanza, Bujumbura Mairie, Bujumbura Rural, Bururi, Cankuzo, Cibitoke, Gitega, Karuzi, Kayanza, Kirundo, Makamba, Muravya, Muyinga, Mwaro, Ngozi, Rutana, and Ruyigi.
2. Burundi francs (BIF) are the local currency. One U.S. dollar is equal to approximately 1,215 BIF.
3. Owing to Burundi’s volatile political climate, the country’s media outlets are sometimes censored, yet, a range of political views, including oppositional viewpoints, is still published. The major publications are the government-owned Le Renouveau
, which is published three times a week, Ndongozi
, which was founded by the Catholic Church, Arc-en-ciel
, a private, French-language weekly, and Ubumwe
, a government-owned weekly.
4. Burundi’s official languages are Kirundi (a Bantu language also known as Rundi) and French; Swahili is commonly spoken along Lake Tanganyika and in the Bujumbura area.
5. Smoking is permitted in public places throughout Burundi.