Burundi - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Burundi
Formation 1962 / 1962
Population 8.5 million / 858 people per sq mile (331 people per sq km)
Total area 10,745 sq. miles (27,830 sq. km)
Languages Kirundi*, French*, Kiswahili
Religions Roman Catholic 62%, Traditional beliefs 23%, Muslim 10%, Protestant 5% Ethnic mix Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1%
Government Presidential system
Currency Burundian franc = 100 centimes
Literacy rate 67%
Calorie consumption 1680 kilocalories
From the 16th century Burundi was an independent monarchy, but little else is known about its history. Some legends say that Ntare Rushati, who founded the first Burundi dynasty, came from Rwanda during the 17th century, while more reliable sources say that he came from Buha and started his kingdom in the region of Nkoma.
In the 19th century European nations were scrambling to colonize the richest parts of Africa for themselves, and Burundi initially fell to the Germans in 1903, becoming part of German East Africa. Following World War I in 1919 the Belgians gained control of both Burundi and neighboring Rwanda. After World War II Burundi became a UN Trust Territory, although Belgium continued to control the nation’s affairs. The unhappiness of the Burundians under Belgian domination led to several military coups, paving the way for Burundi’s eventual independence in 1962.
Independence, however, far from ending political instability in the region, only served to intensify the antagonism of the two hostile ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Since the minority Tutsi dominated the bureaucracy (including the civil service) and the army, the majority Hutus were left feeling powerless.
In 1993 a Hutu banker, Melchior Ndadaye (1953–93) of FRODEBU (Front for Democracy in Burundi) won 60 percent of the popular vote in Burundi’s first democratic presidential election since independence in 1962 and replaced President Pierre Buyoya (b. 1949), a Tutsi. However within 100 days Ndadaye was kidnapped and assassinated in a coup d’état by the Tutsi military, triggering civil war. Thousands of Tutsi civilians were massacred by the enraged Hutu, and the Tutsi military retaliated by slaying hundreds of thousands of Hutu. After still more turmoil and bloodshed Buyoya resumed power in 1996 the result of a coup. In 1998 he revised the constitution, enlarging the National Assembly (the lower chamber of Parliament) and introducing a system with two vice presidents, one Tutsi and the other Hutu.
Nonetheless in spite of these efforts at compromise, since 1993 an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in ethnic violence in Burundi, and 800,000 refugees have been forced to flee to Tanzania, while the number of internally displaced people (IDP) remains around 525,000. The IDP are those people who have fled their homes as a result of war and human rights violations. These people are not technically refugees because they have not crossed the international border. The number of IDP is rising in the war zones, and the problem is, in fact, graver than that of refugees. These people often run away to inaccessible areas in order to survive; however their status only makes it more difficult and sometimes impossible, to help them.
There is an acute shortage of electricity, water, food, and medicine. Approximately one out of every 10 adults has HIV/AIDS, and only half the children are fortunate enough to get an education.
The Hutu rebels and the FDD (Forces for the Defense of Democracy) stage ongoing guerrilla warfare, and the government supports 61 detention camps for the Hutu. The war has had other effects as well. Burundi is a source country for children trafficked for the purpose of forced soldiering. The capital city and foreign nationals are the usual targets of the rebels.
Attempts at peace became slightly more effective in 2000, when a draft accord was signed under sponsorship of Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa. However there are many more issues to be negotiated before the conflict can be resolved to the satisfaction of those involved.
On August 19, 2005, Pierre Nkurunziza (b.
1963), chairman of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), running unopposed, became president. The CNDD was an ethnic Hutu rebel group that has transformed itself into a political party. Its victory generated hopes that government will be able to transform this country.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Burundi is a landlocked country with Tanzania to the east and south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Rwanda to its north. The central region is made up of plateaus sloping toward the Tanzanian east as well as the valley of the Malagarasi River, where coffee, tea, and plenty of savanna grass are grown. The Nile’s southern tributary brings life to valleys and hills draped in banana groves, eucalyptus trees, cultivated fields, and pastures.
The climate of Burundi is that of a tropical highland, though temperatures fluctuate with changing altitudes. The average temperature is 72°F in the central plateau region, while it can rise to 81°F in the capital city of Bujumbura. The annual cycle of seasons includes a long dry season from June to August, a short wet season from September to November, a shorter dry season from December to January, and another long, wet one from February to May.
About 90 percent of the population depends on subsistence-based agriculture, though food shortages are common. Growing and selling coffee constitute the economic spine of Burundi (80 percent of total foreign exchange). This effectively means that Burundian foreign exchange is dependent on fluctuations in the climate (for coffee growth) and the international market (for demand) for coffee. It is through Bujumbura, a major shipping center, that coffee and items such as, cotton, leather hides, and tin ore are exported via river. Because the nation has been engrossed in major ethnic wars since 1993 it has been impossible for the warring, victimized, and displaced farmers and herders to perform well on the economic front. The 250,000 dead and 800,000 displaced have had a devastating impact on the economy.
There is also a shortage of medicines and electricity because the manufacturing sector is poorly developed, and there is a general lack of resources. Burundians make shoes, blankets, and soap, assemble imported components, and process food items on a small scale.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Burundi is a Central African nation closely linked with Rwanda, geographically, historically, and culturally.
Although it is one of the smallest countries in Africa, it is one of the most populous, with a density of nearly 280 persons per square mile. Three ethnic groups live in Burundi: The largest tribe (about 85%) is the Hutu, who are farmers; the Tutsis, who raise cattle, represent between 10 and 15 percent of the population; the Twa people (the remaining 1 percent) are hunters-gatherers.
In spite of their small numbers the Tutsi have controlled the government through most of the nation’s history. Originally however Burundi was a kingdom that was ruled by people belonging to both tribes. They spoke the same language and lived together in the same area. Intermarriage between the Hutu and the Tutsi was commonplace. Their differences in earlier times were manifested in socioeconomic terms. Being Hutu or Tutsi had to do more with one’s social status (in terms of the social hierarchies) than with ethnic identity. In their language (Kirundi), the word hutu implies a subordinate position in society or denotes a farmer or herder. Some Europeans exploited these social distinctions for colonial gain. Years of strife between the two tribes has increased local hostility and eradicated human rights in the country. Due to the constant violence, many people are forced to live in camps.
In spite of decades of a genocidal civil war Burundi is home to the internationally known Master Drummers of Burundi, former royal percussionists.
The Master Drummers inspired the first WOMAD (World of Music, Arts, and Dance) festival in 1982, igniting the world music scene. Burundian men’s folk songs are also notable for their inanga accompaniment. (The inanga is a stringed instrument much like the zither.) Though ethnic differences persist, people remain trusting and interdependent within their families, and children are taught to take care of their elders. Each extended family lives in an enclosed compound called a rugo, which is surrounded by high hedges or walls made of reeds. Each rugo contains beehive-style huts, although these are being increasingly replaced by rectangular clay homes.
The Kirundi language offers a rich oral literature of riddles, poetry, tales, and proverbs, much of which has been translated into French. The tradition has remained oral since all literate Hutus were executed in 1972 in a bid to curb their progress in writing and recording the literature of their own lives.
The people of Burundi rely on red kidney beans, rice, cassava (manioc), corn, and sorghum as their staple foods. Beans are eaten at least once a day. Burundians also commonly eat yams, plantain, maize, and peas.
There are abundant fish available from Lake Tanganyika, but meat and milk from cows is scarce.
Burundian food is stewed, boiled, or roasted over wood fires. Since deforestation is a major problem in Burundi, procuring wood for cooking is becoming increasingly problematic People living in urban centers have access to a wider variety of food, though restaurants remain few and are accessible only to the privileged. In Gitega and Bujumbura restaurants serve French, Greek, and Asian food (chapattis, rice, and spicy curries, for example).
A homemade banana wine called urwarwa is served with meals celebrating special occasions.
Impeke, a home-brewed beer made from sorghum, and Primus beer are also popular drinks. As a symbol of unity close family members and friends drink impeke from the same large container using straws.
Most Burundians make their own containers using the shells of various kinds of homegrown gourds for cooking, eating, and storing food. They also make drinking vessels and storage bins out of gourds.
COMING OF AGE
Circumcision for boys, a sign of adulthood, is widely practiced in Burundi. Genital cutting for girls, though illegal in some areas, is still fairly common, and is considered a sign of virginity and sometimes a status symbol. These circumcisions and genital cuttings are generally done in unhygienic conditions and without any medical supervision.
Female circumcision is widely criticized by Western industrialized countries, and many African nations have banned this coming-of-age ritual, which mutilates a girl psychologically as well as physically. Circumcised women often face painful problems during menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. Some eventually die from the recurring infections that result from the procedure.
For the 93 percent of Burundians who live in rural areas, polygamy is common, despite city laws that prohibit it and Christians who preach against it. In some areas, fining polygamists is a good source of revenue for the government.
For a man to have as many wives as cattle is a kind of a status symbol, as well as a sign of wealth.
Second wives have a second-class status in the household, and first wives have great power in determining how they are treated. If the fist wife decides to go to court, she is likely to win the case, along with a good part of her husband’s property. Property (as in a house) belongs to an entire family, and a husband cannot sell the family house without obtaining the consent of his children and wife.
In southwestern Burundi, men are so scarce— some were expelled to Tanzania, most went to war—that the women give cattle to woo men into marriage (a reversal of their own tradition). Some men justify their polygamy by saying that they are rehabilitating widows by marrying them. Women’s groups in Burundi that have staunchly opposed polygamy seek to educate women about their rights and advocate financial independence for women.