Brief History of Burundi
After decades of German and subsequently Belgian colonial rule, Burundi achieved independence on 1 July 1962. Like its neighbours in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, colonialism scarred Burundi and its people with violence and divisions.
These divisions at the political level divided Burundi’s two main ethnic groups, the majority Hutu and the Tutsi, producing conflicts over political and economic power further confused by clan and regional divisions within the ethnic groups. The violence that eventually ensued saw the assassination of a Prime Minister in 1965 and the first of a series of coups d’état by a Tutsi army captain in 1966. By the time that the country reached its first watershed moment in 1972, a pattern of Hutu revolts met with violent reprisals by the Tutsi-dominated army had become commonplace.
In response to a violent Hutu uprising that led to the deaths of large numbers of Tutsi civilians, the army began massacring Hutu en masse for a period of around four months. The systematic targeting of Hutu, in particular the educated Hutu elite, is widely recognised to have constituted genocide. By the time the violence ended, thousands of Hutu had either been killed or had fled the country.
In the aftermath of the 1972 violence, Tutsi grip on power was consolidated. The UPRONA political party, though originally the multi-ethnic party of the hero of Burundi’s independence, Prince Louis Rwagasore, became the symbol of Tutsi hegemony and military rule in Burundi. A one-party violent state was maintained for two decades in spite of numerous coups. By the beginning of the 1990s a series of reforms were instituted in the face of growing international concern. These reforms led to the first multiparty elections in 1993 that saw the election of the first Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye of the FRODEBU party.
In spite of growing optimism in the country, Burundi was plunged into civil war just three months into Ndadaye’s tenure after his assassination in a failed coup attempt by a group of army officers. Violence perpetrated against Tutsi civilians in the immediate aftermath of his assassination has been referred to as genocide by a UN commission of inquiry. The widespread violence that followed, known locally as la crise, began as a conflict between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated security forces, but soon descended into chaos. After seven years of violence the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement was signed in 2000. The Arusha Agreement did not however bring an end to the civil war, as the two main rebel movements – the CNDD-FDD and the FNL – refused to sign.
A new transitional government nonetheless pushed ahead, eventually signing a ceasefire agreement with the CNDD-FDD and laying the foundations for democratic elections in 2005. Incumbent President, Pierre Nkurunziza was subsequently elected to the presidency as leader of the CNDD-FDD, now converted to a political party under the terms of the ceasefire. The remaining rebel movement, the FNL, officially disarmed in 2009. Estimates of the number of persons killed during the civil war put the figure in the hundreds of thousands.
Today, Burundi remains one of the poorest countries in the world, beset by continued instabilities, widespread corruption, human rights abuses and deep historical divisions. The current political landscape remains dominated by the CNDD-FDD after Pierre Nkurunziza’s re-election in 2010 amid claims of violence and intimidation that led to the majority of opposition parties fleeing into exile.
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