Burundi Country Profile

Burundi has had its share of ethnic conflicts over the past fifty years. From its independence from Belgium in 1962 up to 1993, the country was controlled by a series of military dictators, all from the Tutsi minority. During these years, the country suffered from extensive ethnic violence. In April 1972, a rebellion led by some Hutu members of the gendarmerie broke out, declaring an independent republic. President Michel Micombero (Tutsi) proclaimed martial law and systematically proceeded to slaughter Hutus en masse. During this period, an estimated 80.000 – 210.000 people, most Hutu, were killed.

In 1993, Burundi held its first democratic elections, which were won by the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU). FRODEBU leader Melchior Ndadaye became Burundi's first Hutu president, but a few months later he was assassinated by a group of Tutsi army officers. The killing plunged Burundi into a vicious civil war. In retaliation for Ndadaye's killing, Hutu extremists murdered thousands of Tutsi civilians in a genocidal campaign. The Tutsi-dominated army responded by massacring similar amounts of Hutus.

The civil war continued for more than a decade, despite the efforts of the international community to create a peace process. The death toll of this period stands to more than 200.000. Hundreds of thousands became internally displaced or fled to neighbouring countries. Ceasefire talks were held in Tanzania in 2000, facilitated by Nelson Mandela. This paved the way for a slow transition process that led to an integrated (Hutu Tutsi) defence force and a new constitution in 2005. In that year, democratic elections were organised, and won by a Hutu majority. Pierre Nkurunziza, leader of the former Hutu rebel group CNDD-FDD became president. The situation in Burundi has changed enormously since 2005. Still, the country is one of the poorest in the world, and its economy is in ruins.

Elections 2010

In 2010 a series of elections were held: ranging from village chiefs to the presidency. President Nkurunziza was re-elected, and so was the CNDD-FDD, now a mixed Hutu Tutsi party. The election period was one of great tension in the country.

From the outset, local elections were dominated by the big national parties: CNDD-FDD versus the main opposition parties, who combined forces. The elections were won by CNDD-FDD due to the immense popularity of president Nkurunziza. The combined opposition parties massively rejected the election results, due to alleged fraud. However, the international election observers didn’t found proof of that. The opposition then boycotted the presidential and parliamentary elections that followed, leading to a landslide victory for Nkurunziza (the only remaining candidate) and the CNDD-FDD.

Political rivalries between most (opposition) parties, some of them just transformed from militia to political party, led to fierce acts of vengeance, probably from all sides. Hundreds serious incidents were reported (more than 150 grenade attacks, political assassination, and the imprisonment of political opponents), which destabilized national security during the long polling period.

The outcome of the elections drastically changed the political landscape, with one large political party dominating the scene. The extreme reactions of the opposition parties made the follow up of the elections to a difficult exercise, and the political situation might turn out particularly unstable. However, almost no analyst highlights the risk of renewed large armed (rebel) conflict, not excluding smaller acts of political and civil disobedience and terrorist attacks.

End of 2010, the last remaining conflict factor is the demobilization and effective reintegration of the ex-rebels in society. That process already has achieved a lot of concrete results, but tensions in the armed forces and in society in general are rising. This is a critical issue for Burundi's peace and security. Tensions centre on the heritage of the Arusha peace agreements, the new constitution that is in development, and the percentages of Hutus and Tutsis in the army and police forces. The political turmoil of end 2010 has shown the fragility with the remobilization of some previous rebel (FNL) members. The fact that some political leaders from the opposition have gone into hiding (for security reasons) leaves open reasons to be worried.