Presumably, the pygmies, who lived as hunters and gatherers, represented the indigenous population of today’s Burundi. From the 8th century, these were gradually replaced by the Hutu people who immigrated from the south. The Hutu, which belong to the Bantu peoples, mainly practiced agriculture. From around the 15th century, the warlike Tutsi people (also: Hima) penetrated the area of today’s Burundi from the north and founded a kingdom in which the Hutu, who outnumbered them, only assumed a subordinate position. The Tutsi adopted the language and religion of the Hutu, at the head of the empire was the king (“Mwami”), who was also the religious head of the country.
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It was only in the second half of the 19th century that Europeans penetrated what is now Burundi, including the British researchers Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning. In 1890 Africa was divided between the European colonial powers, the later Burundi became part of “German East Africa” (together with the present-day states of Tanzania and Rwanda).
During the First World War, Belgian troops advanced from the Congo into what is now Burundi and took over. Like the German colonialists before them, they left the ruling structures (a Tutsi minority ruled the majority of the Hutu population) relatively untouched. In the Treaty of Versailles in 1920, the area of today’s Burundi, together with Rwanda, was declared a mandate for the League of Nations (Rwanda-Urundi) and placed under Belgian administration. After the end of World War II in 1946, the area became a United Nations (UN) trust area. For the first time, efforts were made to dismantle the Tutsi supremacy by, for example, specifically filling administrative offices with educated Hutu.
In the course of decolonization, political parties were admitted in the late 1950s. Of the approximately 20 emerging parties, only two were significant: the anti-Belgian “Parti de l’Unit¨¦ et du Progr¨¨s National” (UPRONA) under the leadership of Tutsi Louis Rwagasore and the “Parti D¨¦mocrate Chr¨¦tien” (PDC) supported by the former colonial power. UPRONA won the majority of votes in the September 1961 UN parliamentary elections. Its leader, Louis Rwagasore, became the first head of government in Burundi, which was now administratively separated from Rwanda and which had been granted internal autonomy and self-government.
Louis Rwagasore was murdered just a few days after the election. When four Hutu trade unionists were subsequently murdered by radical Tutsis in a retaliation, the conflict between the two peoples broke out openly in early 1962 and has not been resolved to this day. Against this background, Burundi was released in July 1962 as a constitutional monarchy with Mwami Mwambutsa II as head of state.
The country’s only relevant party, UPRONA, fell into a radical wing and a moderate wing (Casablanca and Monrovia wings). At around the same time, Hutu came to power in neighboring Rwanda with the support of Belgium and drove the entire upper class of the Tutsi resident there out of the country. King Mwami Kig¨¦ri V., expelled from Rwanda, according to AbbreviationFinder, founded an exile government in Burundi and started attempts to invade Rwanda from there.
After domestic turmoil with several changes in government and ongoing conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples (in October 1965 alone, more than 5000 Hutu were killed in retaliation by the Tutsi-dominated army), the republic was proclaimed in November 1966. UPRONA under the Tutsi Michel Micombero was declared a unitary party, Micombero became the first President of the Republic (until 1976). Subsequently, Hutu were exposed from all important political and administrative offices and mass arrests occurred. Tensions reached a new high in April 1972, when extreme attempts were made by government troops after a coup attempt by Hutu and the murder of numerous Tutsis. The remaining members of the Hutu elite were killed in mass executions,around 100,000 refugees left the country. The following years were marked by bloody attacks by Hutu guerrillas from the surrounding countries and equally cruel retaliation by the Burundian military against the Hutu living in the country.
From the mid-1970s, there seemed to be a slight relaxation when UPRONA was abolished as a unitary party (from 1982 “Unit¨¦ pour le Progr¨¨s National”) and Hutu were increasingly incorporated into the country’s administrative apparatus. In 1982 a new constitution was adopted and elections were held for the first time in 17 years, in which Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, who had ruled since 1976, was confirmed as President.
Bagaza was disempowered in 1987 by a bloodless military coup, the country’s political leadership was taken over by a “Military Committee of National Salvation” (Comit¨¦ Militaire du Salut National / CMSN), the new head of state was Major Pierre Buyoya (Tutsi). In the following, the leadership tried to find a balance between the hostile peoples, but without much success. From mid-1988, a government of “National Reconciliation” was formed with twelve Hutu and eleven Tutsi (one year later 14 Hutu, 10 Tutsi). The multi-party system was reintroduced by a constitutional amendment and democratic elections announced.
In 1993, the Hutu Melchior Ndadaye won 65 percent of the vote and became the new head of state in Burundi. In the following parliamentary elections, the Hutu party FRODEBU (“Front pour la d¨¦mocratie au Burundi” / “Front for democracy”) of the incumbent head of state won over 70% of the votes cast and thus 65 of the 81 seats in parliament. In October of the same year, Ndadaye and six other Hutu politicians were murdered, resulting in bloody riots that left several thousand dead and refugees. In the camps in neighboring countries, the renewed wave of refugees (an estimated one million) led to starvation disasters and the outbreak of epidemics.
The new Hutu head of state Cyprien Ntaryamira appointed Tutsi Anatole Kanyen Kiko as head of a coalition government from FRODEBU and UPRONA in February 1994. Only a few months later, the Burundian and Rwandan heads of state were killed in a plane crash, which led to massacres between the ethnic groups in both countries.
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In Burundi, the political fortunes of the country continued to be headed by a Hutu president and a Tutsi head of government and his coalition government over the next few years, but there were repeated bloody conflicts, eg between Hutu militias and the Tutsi-dominated army, among them countless civilians were also killed.
In 1996 the military again took power in Burundi after a coup. Ex-party leader Pierre Buyoya returned, declared the parliament dissolved and the incumbent president (Sylvestre Ntibantunganya) deposed. As a result, some African countries imposed an economic embargo on Burundi, the United States and the European Union threatened to end development aid essential to Burundi.
Despite the lifting of the ban on parties and the official reinstatement of parliament, the country did not come to rest in the years that followed. Head of state Buyoya offered his willingness to negotiate with the Hutu-led guerrilla organization “National Council for the Defense of Democracy” (CNDD) on condition that the militias were disarmed.
In June 1998, a peace treaty was signed between the Burundian government and the Hutu rebel organization CNDD under their leader L¨¦onard Nyangoma, which was not followed by either side. In 1999 there were again forced relocations of around 350,000 Hutu to so-called “protected settlements”. In these mass camps, which were completely dependent on foreign aid deliveries, there were catastrophic living conditions. After the UN workers were murdered by Hutu rebels, international aid agencies partially stopped deliveries, while the UN demanded that the Burundian government close the camps.
In August 2000, after months of mediation by former South African President Nelson Mandela, a peace treaty was signed between the hostile groups, but some warring parties boycotted the negotiations and the agreement. Finally, on November 1, 2001, a transitional government was sworn in. A new constitution has been in force since 2005, making Burundi a presidential republic. The same year, democratic elections were held to elect Pierre Nkurunziza as president. The seats in parliament were allocated according to the proportion of ethnic groups within the population.