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Diplomacy in Action

Burundi (08/00)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Burundi

Location: Central Africa. Bordering nations--Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda.
Area: 27,830 sq. km. (10,747 sq. mi.); about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Bujumbura (pop. 300,000). Other cities--Cibitoke, Muyinga, Ngozi, Bubanza, Gitega, Bururi.
Terrain: Hilly, rising from 780 meters (2,600 ft.) at the Shore of Lake Tanganyika to mountains more than 2,700 meters (9,000 ft.) above sea level.
Climate: Warm but not uncomfortable in Bujumbura; cooler in higher regions.

Nationality: Noun--Barundi (sing. and pl.); adjective--Burundian(s).
Population (June 2000): 6.2 million.
Annual growth rate (1999 est.): 3.54 %.
Ethnic groups: Hutu 85%; Tutsi 14%; Twa 1.0%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 62%; Protestant 5%; traditional beliefs 32%; Muslim 1%.
Languages: Official--Kirundi, French; Other--Kiswahili, English.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--55% male, 45% female. Literacy--35.3%.
Health (1999 est.): Life expectancy--44 yrs. (men), 47 yrs. (women). Infant mortality rate--99/1,000.

Type: Republic--with power vested strongly in executive; transitional government (de facto military regime).
Independence: July 1, 1962 (from Belgium).
Constitution: A draft constitution was promulgated on March 13, 1992 and suspended following the July 1996 coup. A Transitional Constitutional Act, promulgated on June 6, 1998, legitimizes the authority of the president and establishes the political platform for the transitional regime.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state, head of government) and 14-member presidential-appointed cabinet with two vice presidents. Legislative--121-member National Assembly (81 elected, 40 appointed). Judicial--Supreme Court and subsidiary courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 15 provinces with 114 communes.
Political parties: Multi-party system introduced after 1998. FRODEBU (the Front for Democracy in Burundi, predominantly Hutu with some Tutsi membership) and UPRONA (the National Unity and Progress Party, predominantly Tutsi with some Hutu membership) are national, mainstream parties. Other Tutsi and Hutu opposition parties and groups include, among others, PARENA (the Party for National Redress, Tutsi), ABASA (the Burundi African Alliance for the Salvation, Tutsi), PRP (the People's Reconciliation Party, Tutsi), CNDD/FDD (the National Council for the Defense of Democracy/Front for the Defense of Democracy, now consisting of two groups, Hutu), PALIPEHUTU (the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People, Hutu) and FROLINA/FAP (the Front for the National Liberation of Burundi/Popular Armed Forces, Hutu).
Suffrage: Universal adult; elections under transitional regime not yet held.
Flag: White diagonal cross with two red and two green panels; white circle in center with three red stars. Burundi flag


GDP (1998 est.): $4.1 billion.
Real growth rate (1998 est.): 2%.
GDP per capita (1998 est.): $740.
Inflation rate (1998): 17%.
Central government budget (1999): Receipts--$138.7 million; spending--$186.8 million.
Natural resources: nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum deposits not yet exploited, vanadium.
Structure of production (1997 est.): Agriculture 58%, Industry 18%, Services 24%.
Agriculture (1998 est., 49.4% of GDP): Products--coffee, tea, sugar, cotton fabrics and oil, corn, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, manioc (tapioca), beef, milk, hides, livestock feed, rice. Arable land--44%.
Industry (1998 est., 19.1% of GDP): Types--sugar refining, coffee processing, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, food processing, chemicals (insecticides), public works construction, light consumer goods, assembly of imported components.
Services (1998 est.): 31.5% of GDP.
Mining: Commercial quantities of alluvial gold, nickel, phosphates, rare earth, vanadium, and other; peat mining.
Trade (1998): Exports--$49 million: coffee (88% of export earnings), tea, sugar, cotton fabrics, hides. Major markets: U.K., Germany, Benelux, Switzerland. Imports--$102 million: food, beverages, tobacco, chemicals, road vehicles, petroleum and products. Major suppliers--Benelux, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan.
Total external debt (1997): $1.247 billion.

At 206.1 persons per sq. km., Burundi has the second-largest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most people live on farms near areas of fertile volcanic soil. The population is made up of three major ethnic groups--Bahutu (Hutu), Batutsi or Watusi (Tutsi), and Batwa (Twa). Kirundi is the common language. Intermarriage takes place frequently between the Hutus and Tutsis. The terms "pastoralist" and "agriculturist," often used as ethnic designations for Watutsi and Bahutu, respectively, are only occupational titles which vary among individuals and groups. Although Hutus encompass the majority of the population, historically Tutsis have been politically and economically dominant.

In the 16th century, Burundi was a kingdom characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. A king (mwani) headed a princely aristocracy (gwana) which owned most of the land and required a tribute, or tax, from local farmers and herders. In the mid-18th century, this Tutsi royalty consolidated authority over land, production, and distribution with the development of the ubugabire--a patron-client relationship in which the populace received royal protection in exchange for tribute and land tenure.

Although European explorers and missionaries made brief visits to the area as early as 1856, it was not until 1899 that Burundi came under German East African administration. In 1916 Belgian troops occupied the area. In 1923, the League of Nations mandated to Belgium the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, encompassing modern-day Rwanda and Burundi. The Belgians administered the territory through indirect rule, building on the Tutsi-dominated aristocratic hierarchy. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations Trust Territory under Belgian administrative authority. After 1948, Belgium permitted the emergence of competing political parties. Two political parties emerged: the Union for National Progress (UPRONA), a multi-ethnic party led by Tutsi Prince Louis Rwagasore and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) supported by Belgium. In 1961, Prince Rwagasore was assassinated following an UPRONA victory in legislative elections.

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 by his prime minister Capt. Michel Micombero in the same year. 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. 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.

In 1987, Maj. Pierre Buyoya overthrew Colonel Bagaza. He dissolved opposition parties, suspended the 1981 constitution, and instituted his ruling Military Committee for National Salvation (CSMN). During 1988, increasing tensions between the ruling Tutsis and the majority Hutus resulted in violent confrontations between the army, the Hutu opposition, and Tutsi hardliners. During this period, an estimated 150,000 people were killed, with tens of thousands of refugees flowing to neighboring countries. Buyoya formed a commission to investigate the causes of the 1988 unrest and to develop a charter for democratic reform.

In 1991, Buyoya approved a constitution that provided for a president, nonethnic government, and a parliament. Burundi's first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, of the Hutu-dominated FRODEBU Party, was elected in 1993. He was assassinated by factions of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces in October 1993. The country then plunged into civil war, which killed tens of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands by the time the FRODEBU government regained control and elected Cyprien Ntaryamira president in January 1994. Nonetheless, the security situation continued to deteriorate. In April 1994, President Ntayamira and Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana died in a plane crash. This act marked the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, while in Burundi, the death of Ntaryamira exacerbated the violence and unrest. Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was installed to a 4-year presidency on April 8, but the security situation further declined. The influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees and the activities of armed Hutu and Tutsi groups further destabilized the regime.

In November 1995, the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zaire announced a regional initiative for a negotiated peace in Burundi facilitated by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. In July 1996, former Burundian President Buyoya returned to power in a bloodless coup. He declared himself president of a transitional republic, even as he suspended the National Assembly, banned opposition groups, and imposed a nationwide curfew. Widespread condemnation of the coup ensued, and regional countries imposed economic sanctions pending a return to a constitutional government. Buyoya agreed in 1996 to liberalize political parties. Nonetheless, fighting between the army and Hutu militias continued. In June 1998, Buyoya promulgated a transitional constitution and announced a partnership between the government and the opposition-led National Assembly. After Facilitator Julius Nyerere's death in October 1999, the regional leaders appointed Nelson Mandela as Facilitator of the Arusha peace process. Under Mandela the peace process has revived and important progress has taken place.

Principal Government Officials
President--Pierre Buyoya
First Vice President of the National Assembly--Frederic Bamvuginyumvira
Second Vice President of the National Assembly--Mathias Sinamenye
Speaker of the National Assembly--Leonce Ngendakumana
Minister of Defense--Cyrille Ndayirukiye
Minister of External Relations and Cooperation--Severin Ntahomvukiye
Minister of Internal Affairs and Security--Col. Ascension Twagiramungu
Ambassador to the United States--Thomas Ndikumana
Ambassador to the United Nations--Marc Nteturuye

Burundi maintains an embassy in the United States at Suite 212, 2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-342-2574).

The mainstay of the Burundian economy is agriculture, accounting for 58% of GDP in 1997. Agriculture supports more than 90% of the labor force, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. Although Burundi is potentially self-sufficient in food production, the ongoing civil war, overpopulation, and soil erosion have contributed to the contraction of the subsistence economy by 25% in recent years. Large numbers of internally displaced persons have been unable to produce their own food and are largely dependent on international humanitarian assistance. Burundi is a net food importer, with food accounting for 17% of imports in 1997.

The main cash crop is coffee, which accounted for 78.5% of exports in 1997. This dependence on coffee has increased Burundi's vulnerability to seasonal yields and international coffee prices. Coffee is the largest state-owned enterprise. In recent years, the government has tried to attract private investment to this sector, with some success. Efforts to privatize other publicly held enterprises have stalled. Other principal exports include tea and raw cotton.

Little industry exists except the processing of agricultural exports. Although potential wealth in petroleum, nickel, copper, and other natural resources is being explored, the uncertain security situation has prevented meaningful investor interest. Industrial development also is hampered by Burundi's distance from the sea and high transport costs. Lake Tanganyika remains an important trading point. The trade embargo, lifted in 1999, negatively impacted trade and industry.

Burundi is heavily dependent on bilateral and multilateral aid, with external debt totaling $1.247 billion in 1997. A series of largely unsuccessful 5-year plans initiated in July 1986 in partnership with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund attempted to reform the foreign exchange system, liberalize imports, reduce restrictions on international transactions, diversify exports, and reform the coffee industry.

IMF structural adjustment programs in Burundi were suspended following the outbreak of the crisis in 1993. The World Bank has identified key areas for potential growth, including the productivity of traditional crops and the introduction of new exports, light manufactures, industrial mining, and services. Other serious problems include the state's role in the economy, the question of governmental transparency, and debt reduction.

To protest the 1996 coup by President Buyoya, neighboring countries imposed an economic embargo on Burundi. Although the embargo was never officially ratified by the United Nations Security Council, most countries refrained from official trade with Burundi. Following the 1996 coup, the United States suspended all but humanitarian aid to Burundi. The regional embargo was lifted on January 23, 1999, based on progress by the government in advancing national reconciliation through the Burundi peace process.

Burundi's relations with its neighbors have often been affected by security concerns. Hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees have at various times crossed to neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC). Hundreds of thousands of Burundians are in neighboring countries as a result of the ongoing civil war. Most of them, more than 340,000 since 1993, are in Tanzania. Some Burundian rebel groups have used neighboring countries as bases for insurgent activities. The 1993 embargo placed on Burundi by regional states negatively impacted its diplomatic relations with its neighbors; relations have improved since the 1999 suspension of these sanctions.

Burundi is a member of various international and regional organizations, including the United Nations, the Organization for African Unity, and the African Development Bank.

Burundi is an important factor in regional stability in the Great Lakes region. The United States encourages political stability, democratic change, respect for human rights, and shared economic development in Burundi. The United States supports the Arusha/ Tanzania peace process aimed at national reconciliation and the eventual formation of a constitutional government, and encourages a peaceful solution to the civil conflict in Burundi. In the long term, the U.S. seeks to strengthen the process of internal reconciliation and democratization within all the states of the region to promote a stable, democratic community of nations that will work toward mutual social, economic, and security interests on the continent.

The United States has provided financial support for the peace process. U.S. bilateral aid with the exception of humanitarian assistance was ended following the 1996 coup.

In view of progress in the peace talks, the U.S. and other international donors are reconsidering their policy of assistance. A State Department Travel Advisory was listed for Burundi in August 1999.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Mary Carlin Yates
Deputy Chief of Mission--Cheryl A. Casebeer
Economic/Commercial Officer--David Mosby
Political Officer--Maria Olsen
Administrative Officer--Thomas Ryan
Consular Officer--David Mosby
Regional Security Officer--Michael R. Lombardo
General Service Officer--Richard T. Yoneoka

The U.S. embassy is at Avenue des Etats Unis (Boite Postale 1720), Bujumbura (tel. [257] 22-34-54).

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