printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Burundi (08/18/10)

August 18, 2010


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


Location: Central Africa. Bordering nations--Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the 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.
Climate: Equatorial; high plateau with considerable altitude variation (772 m to 2,670 m above sea level); average annual temperature varies with altitude from 23 to 17 degrees centigrade (73 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit) but is generally moderate as the average altitude is about 1,700 m (5,600 ft.); average annual rainfall is about 150 cm (59 in.); two wet seasons (February to May and September to November), and two dry seasons (June to August and December to January).
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.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Burundian(s).
Population (2008): 8,691,005.
Annual growth rate (2008): 3.443%.
Ethnic groups: Hutu (Bantu) 85%; Tutsi (Hamitic) 14%; Twa (Pygmy) 1.0%.
Religions: Christian 67% (Roman Catholic 62%, Protestant 5%), indigenous beliefs 23%, Muslim 10%.
Languages: Kirundi (official), French (official), Swahili (along Lake Tanganyika and in the Bujumbura area), English.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--84.05% male, 62.8% female. Literacy: 59.3% of total population over the age of 15 can read and write.
Health (2007): Life expectancy--total population 51.71 years; male 50.86 years; female 52.6 years. Infant mortality rate--60.77/1,000.

Type: Republic. Democratically elected, post-transition government established August 26, 2005.
Independence: July 1, 1962 (from Belgium).
Constitution: A transitional constitution was adopted October 18, 2001. The parliament adopted a post-transition constitution on September 17, 2004, which was approved in a nationwide referendum held February 28, 2005.
Branches: Executive--President, First Vice President in charge of political and administrative affairs, Second Vice President in charge of social and economic affairs, 26-member Council of Ministers. Legislative--bicameral; National Assembly and Senate. Judicial--constitutional and subsidiary courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 17 provinces including Bujumbura, 117 communes.
Political parties: Multi-party system consisting of 21 registered political parties, of which CNDD (the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, Hutu), 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), FNL (the National Forces of Liberation, Hutu) and FROLINA/FAP (the Front for the National Liberation of Burundi/Popular Armed Forces, Hutu).
Suffrage: Universal adult.

GDP (2008): $1.097 billion.
Real growth rate (2008): 4.5%.
Per capita GDP (2008): $138.
Population below poverty line (2000): 68%.
Inflation rate (2008): 24.4%.
Central government budget (2006 est.): Revenues--$239.9 million; expenditures--$297 million, including capital expenditures.
Natural resources: Nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum, vanadium, arable land, hydropower, niobium, tantalum, gold, tin, tungsten, kaolin, limestone.
Agriculture (2007 est., 34% of GDP): Coffee, cotton, tea, corn, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, manioc (tapioca), beef, milk, hides. Arable land--35.57% (2005 est.).
Industry (2007 est., 21% of GDP): Types--beverage production, coffee and tea processing, cigarette production, sugar refining, pharmaceuticals, light food processing, textiles, chemicals (insecticides), public works construction, consumer goods, assembly of imported components, light consumer goods such as blankets, shoes, soap.
Services (2007 est.): 45% of GDP.
Mining: Commercial quantities of alluvial gold, nickel, phosphates, rare earth, vanadium and other; peat mining.
Trade (2006 est.): Exports--$55.68 million f.o.b.: coffee (50% of export earnings), tea, sugar, cotton fabrics, hides. Major markets--U.K., Germany, Benelux, Switzerland. Imports--$207.3 million f.o.b.: food, beverages, tobacco, chemicals, road vehicles, petroleum products. Major suppliers--Benelux, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan.
Total external debt (2003 est.): $1.2 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--Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Kirundi is the most widely spoken language; French and Kiswahili also are widely spoken. Intermarriage takes place frequently between the Hutus and Tutsis. 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 (ganwa) that 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 the same year by a military coup led 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. 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, multi-ethnic 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 was then plunged into civil war, in which tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced 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 as president for a 4-year term on April 8, but the security situation further deteriorated. The influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees and the activities of armed Hutu and Tutsi groups further destabilized the regime.

Burundi's civil war officially ended in 2006 under a South Africa-brokered cease-fire agreement with the last of Burundi's rebel groups. Today the government is focused on rebuilding its infrastructure and reestablishing external relations with its regional neighbors.

In November 1995, the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) 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 faltering peace process was revived, leading to the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 2000 by representatives of the principal Hutu (G-7) and Tutsi (G-10) political parties, the government, and the National Assembly. However, the FDD and FNL armed factions of the CNDD and Palipehutu G-7 parties refused to accept the Arusha Accords, and the armed rebellion continued.

In November 2001, a 3-year transitional government was established under the leadership of Pierre Buyoya (representing the G-10) as transitional president and Domitien Ndayizeye (representing the G-7) as transitional vice president for an initial period of 18 months. In May 2003, Mr. Ndayizeye assumed the presidency for 18 months with Alphonse Marie Kadege as vice president. In October and November 2003 the Burundian Government and the former rebel group the CNDD-FDD signed cease-fire and power-sharing agreements, and in March 2004 members of the CNDD-FDD took offices in the government and parliament. The World Bank and other bilateral donors have provided financing for Burundi's disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for former rebel combatants.

National and regional mediation efforts failed to reach a compromise on post-transition power-sharing arrangements between the predominantly Hutu and Tutsi political parties, and in September 2004 over two-thirds of the parliament--despite a boycott by the Tutsi parties--approved a post-transition constitution. The Arusha Peace Agreement called for local and national elections to be held before the conclusion of the transitional period on October 31, 2004. On October 20, 2004, however, a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate adopted a previously approved draft constitution as an interim constitution that provided for an extension of transitional institutions until elections were held. On February 28, 2005, Burundians overwhelmingly approved a post-transitional constitution in a popular referendum, setting the stage for local and national elections. In April 2005, Burundi's transitional government was again extended and an electoral calendar was established at a regional summit held in Uganda.

In accordance with the new electoral calendar, the Burundian people voted in Commune Council direct elections on June 3, 2005 and National Assembly direct elections on July 4, 2005. An electoral college of commune and provincial councils indirectly elected Senate members on July 29, 2005. A joint session of the parliament elected Pierre Nkurunziza as President of Burundi on August 19, 2005 in a vote of 151 to 9 with one abstention, establishing the post-transition Hutu majority government. Finally, the Burundian people established Colline (hill) councils through direct elections on September 23, 2005.

In September 2006, the last remaining rebel group in Burundi, the FNL, signed a peace agreement. Implementation obstacles and spurts of violence from the group slowed the process. In May 2008, the leaders of the FNL returned to Burundi to address the impasse and negotiate with the Government of Burundi. The two entities agreed upon a durable solution on December 4, 2008. They are currently working toward implementing that agreement. While the FNL has effectively changed its name from its ethnic derivative, “Palipehutu-FNL”, to “FNL”, their agreement to disarm and demobilize remaining combatants is ongoing. The government agreed to integrate the FNL into the Burundian political system by allowing it to register and act as a full-fledged political party and assume leadership positions. As of May 31, 2009 FNL had been registered as a political party. While South Africa remains the key mediator in the ongoing peace process, there has been a consolidation of efforts in Burundi. The Partnership for Peace in Burundi (PPB) is a collective of the Political Directorate (South Africa, Tanzania, UN), Great Lakes Special Envoys, UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The PPB is the responsible mechanism for moving forward with political integration for the FNL and the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process for FNL ex-combatants.

Presidential elections were held in June 2010, and legislative elections were held in July 2010.

Principal Government Officials
President--Pierre Nkurunziza
First Vice President--Yves Sahinguvu
Second Vice President--Gabriel Ntisezerana
Speaker of the National Assembly--Pie Ntavyohanyuma
President of the Senate--Gervais Rufyikiri
Minister of Defense--Germain Niyoyankana
Minister of External Relations and Cooperation (Foreign Minister)--Augustin Nsanze
Minister of Interior and Communal Development--Edouard Nduwimana
Minister of Public Security--Alain Bunyoni
Ambassador to the United States--Angele Niyuhire

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

Burundi's economy is based predominantly on agriculture, accounting for 34% of GDP in 2007. 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 civil war, overpopulation, and soil erosion have contributed to the contraction of the subsistence economy by 30% in recent years. Large numbers of internally displaced persons have been unable to produce their own food and are dependent on international humanitarian assistance. Burundi is a net food importer, with food accounting for 13% of imports in 2003.

The main cash crop is coffee, which accounted for some 80% of exports in 2004. This dependence on coffee has increased Burundi's vulnerability to fluctuations in seasonal yields and international coffee prices. Coffee processing is the largest state-owned enterprise in terms of income. Although the government has tried to attract private investment to this sector, plans for the privatization of this sector have stalled. Efforts to privatize other publicly held enterprises have likewise stalled. Other principal exports include tea, sugar, and raw cotton. Coffee production, after a severe drop in 2003, returned to normal levels in 2004. Revenues from coffee production and exports are likewise estimated to return to pre-2003 levels.

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.

Burundi is heavily dependent on bilateral and multilateral aid, with external debt totaling $1.4 billion in 2004. International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programs in Burundi were suspended following the outbreak of violence in 1993; the IMF re-engaged Burundi in 2002 and 2003 with post-conflict credits, and in 2004 approved a $104 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan. The World Bank is preparing a Transition Support Strategy, and 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. Both the IMF and the World Bank assisted the Burundians in preparing a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, released in February 2007. More than 81% of Burundians live below the poverty line. Serious economic problems include the state's role in the economy, the question of governmental transparency, and debt reduction. In January 2009, the IMF and the World Bank decided that Burundi satisfied the requirements toward reaching its completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and waived $424 million in debt.

Based on Burundi's successful transition from war to peace and the establishment of a democratically-elected government in Burundi in September 2005, the United States Government lifted all sanctions on assistance to Burundi on October 18, 2005. Burundi also became eligible for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in December 2005, but no Burundian industries have yet taken advantage of AGOA benefits.

Burundi's relations with its neighbors have often been affected by security concerns. The Great Lakes is home to a number of illegal armed groups, including the Burundian FNL (previously the Palipehutu-FNL), which is involved in the process of disarming and demobilizing, which is not without complication. Hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees have at various times crossed into Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These Burundians fled to neighboring countries during the civil war, hundreds of thousands of whom sought refuge in Tanzania. Most refugees have returned or opted to settle permanently in countries of asylum. Burundi maintains close relations with all neighbors in the Great Lakes region, including Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In reaffirming Burundi's commitment to regional peacekeeping and allegiance to the African Union, the government recently deployed troops to quell the ongoing crisis in Somalia.

Burundi is a member of various international and regional organizations, including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the African Union, the African Development Bank, COMESA, the free-tariff zone of eastern and southern Africa, and the East Africa Community (EAC).

U.S. Government goals in Burundi are to help the people of Burundi realize a just and lasting peace based upon democratic principles and sustainable economic development. The United States encourages political stability, ongoing democratic reforms, political openness, respect for human rights, and economic development. In the long term, the United States 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 supported the Arusha peace process, providing financial support through our assessed contributions to a UN peacekeeping force established in 2004. Burundi is also a member of the Tripartite Plus Commission, which convenes member countries of the Great Lakes region in an effort to end the threat of armed groups and foster stability.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Pamela Slutz
Deputy Chief of Mission--Judy Buelow
Political Officers--Carson Relitz-Rocker
Economic Officer--Mark Carr
Management Officer--Anthony Kleiber
Consular Officer--Jaclyn Cole-Adkins
Regional Security Officer--Christopher Bakken
General Service Officer--Chelsea Bakken

The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenue des Etats-Unis (Boite Postale 1720), Bujumbura (tel. [257] 222234-54).

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.