Burundi – the Republic of Burundi to give it its full name – is one of the smallest countries in Africa, but with 8.7 million people calling it home, it’s pretty densely populated. Burundi is landlocked and sits within the region of the Great Lakes of East Africa and its capital is Bujumbura.
Burundi is in the top 5 poorest countries of the world and has one of the lowest GDPs per capita. Issues with warfare, corruption, poverty, low education, high population density and HIV have ruined the place.
Burundi was part of a territory owned by Germany and Belgium until the end of WWI when Germany gave its rights up to Belgium. They ruled Rwanda and Burundi as a joint area called Ruanda-Urundi.
Burundi is populated by three tribes, the Twa, Hutu and Tutsi. The latter of those two tribes make up 85% and 14% of the population respectively. The Hutu and Tutsi have a long and bloody history of in-fighting due to social differences, with Rwandan Hutu being responsible for the brutal culling of tens of thousands of Tutsi. Some figures estimate that they killed a million Tutsi in just 100 days.
There is actually no genetic or cultural differences between the Hutu and the Tutsi. It’s believed that the Hutu and Tutsi were artificially separated by Germans and Belgians to help them better complete their census of the regional tribes. So the definition between the two is fairly arbitrary. But it has stuck fast, benefiting no one.
The strife between the two groups seems to be mostly class related with the Tutsi being perceived as richer. The Tutsi had a monarchy in place from the 15th Century until it was overthrown at the request of the Belgians in the 60’s and the Hutu then took to power by force. The uprising in Burundi, however, failed and the Tutsi took control.
In 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, was assassinated when his plane was shot down. The Hutu president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was also killed in the crash. This sparked the horrific and extensive extermination of Tutsis by Hutu militias, even though blame for the plane attack has never been fully established. After the carnage the Tutsi regained power and the Hutu ran to neighbouring countries for safety. The battle goes on.
So it’s another horrible and brutal part of the world where European fingers probably helped stir up a nasty piece of history and then left them to get on with it.
Here’s a video of some Burundi music to show that all is not lost: