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History of Burundi

From Academic Kids

Burundi is one of the few countries in Africa, along with its closely linked neighbour Rwanda, to be a direct territorial continuation of an ancient African state.

Contents

Kingdom of Burundi

The origins of Burundi are known only by a mix of oral history and archaeology. There are two main founding legends for Burundi. The one most promoted today tells a tale of a Rwandan named Cambarantama founding the nation. The other version, more common in pre-colonial Burundi, says that Cambarantama came from the southern state of Buha. The notion of Rwandan origins for the kingdom was promoted by the European colonizers for it fit their ideals of a ruling class coming to the area from the Hamitic northeast. The theory has continued to be the semi-official dogma of the modern Burundian state. Historians doubt the Hamitic origins of the Tutsis, but it is still believed that their ancestors migrated from the north to what is now Burundi in the 15th century.

The first evidence of the Burundian state is from 16th century where it emerged on the eastern foothills. Over the next centuries it expanded, annexing smaller neighbours and competing with Rwanda. Its greatest growth occurred under Ntare Rugama, who ruled the nation from about 1796 to 1850 and saw the kingdom double in size.

The Kingdom of Burundi was characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. The king, known as the mwami 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 became a part of German East Africa. Unlike the Rwandan monarchy which decided to accept the German advances, the Burundian king Mwezi Gisabo opposed all European influence, refusing to wear European clothing and resisting the advance of European missionaries or administrators. The Germans used armed force and succeeded in doing great damage, but did not destroy the king’s power. Eventually they backed one of the king's son-in-laws Maconco in a revolt against Gisabo. Gisabo was eventually forced to concede and agreed to German suzerainty. The Germans then helped him suppress Maconco's revolt. The smaller kingdoms along the western shore of Lake Victoria were also attached to Burundi.

Colonial rule

Even after this the foreign presence was minimal and the kings continued to rule much as before. Exposure to Europeans did, however, bring devastating diseases affecting both people and animals. Affecting the entire region, Burundi was especially hard hit. A great famine hit in 1905, with others striking the entire Great Lakes region in 1914, 1923, and 1944. Between 1905 and 1914 half the population of the western plains region died.

In 1916 Belgian troops conquered the area during the First World War. In 1923, the League of Nations mandated to Belgium the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, encompassing modern-day Rwanda and Burundi, but stripping the western kingdoms and giving them to British administered Tanganyika. 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.

Independence

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. These were in part in reaction to events in Rwanda where Tutsis were being killed by a Hutu nationalist regime. In Burundi the Tutsi became committed to ensuring they would not meet the same fate and much of the country's military and police forces became controlled by Tutsis. Unlike Rwanda, which allied itself with the United States in the Cold War, Burundi after independence became affiliated with China.

In 1966, King Mwambutsa was deposed by his son, Prince Ntare V, 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 an effort to attract sympathy from the United States, the Tutsi-dominated government accused the Hutu rebels of having Communist leanings, although there is no credible evidence that this was actually the case.

In 1976, Colonel 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, Major Pierre Buyoya overthrew Col. 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 Front for Democracy in Burundi (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 Ntaryamira and Rwandan President Juvénal 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, although there was no general massacre. 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.

On July 25, 1996, the government was overthrown in a coup led by Buyoya. The civil war continued, despite the efforts of the international community to create a peace process. Progress has been made since 2001, when a power-sharing government was created, and in 2003, Domitien Ndayizeye, the Hutu vice-president, became president as mandated by the power-sharing agreement.

See also

External link

BBC News, Burundi Timeline (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1068991.stm)

BBC News, Burundi Poll Postponed (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3747190.stm)

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