Africa

Burundi country profile - Overview

  • 14 May 2015
  • From the section Africa
Map of Burundi

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

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

The ethnic violence sparked off in 1994 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa's most intractable conflicts.

It began to reap the dividends of a peace process, but faces the formidable tasks of reviving a shattered economy and forging national unity.

Boatmen on Lake Tanganyika, Burundi
Burundi lies on Lake Tanganyika, the world's longest freshwater lake

In 1993 Burundi seemed poised to enter a new era when, in their first democratic elections, Burundians chose their first Hutu head of state, Melchior Ndadaye, and a parliament dominated by the Hutu Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu) party.

But within months Ndadaye had been assassinated, setting the scene for years of Hutu-Tutsi violence in which an estimated 300,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed.

In early 1994 parliament elected another Hutu, Cyprien Ntaryamira, as president. But he was killed in April alongside the president of neighbouring Rwanda when the plane they were travelling in was shot down over Kigali.

Power sharing

Another Hutu, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, was appointed president in October 1994. But within months, the mainly Tutsi Union for National Progress (Uprona) party withdrew from the government and parliament, sparking a new wave of ethnic violence.

Following long-running talks, mediated by South Africa, a power-sharing government was set up in 2001 and most of the rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire. Four years later Burundians voted in the first parliamentary elections since the start of the civil war.

The main Hutu former rebel group won the vote and nominated its leader Pierre Nkurunziza as president.

The government and the United Nations embarked on the lengthy process of disarming thousands of soldiers and former rebels, as well as forming a new national army, but the authoritarian behaviour of the government following disputed elections in 2010 has cast a shadow over the reconciliation process.

Protestors took to the streets in 2015 to oppose President Nkurunziza's attempt to stand for a third term. Army factions vied for control of the capital after a coup attempt, leaving the country's democratic future in the balance.

Cyclist taking bananas to market
Burundi appears to be recovering from ethnic tensions

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