11 Things You Should Know About Burundi’s Struggle For Independence

11 Things You Should Know About Burundi’s Struggle For Independence

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This week Burundi celebrates 53 years of independence from Belgium. One of two African nations colonized by Belgium, its July 1, 1962 independence day is one of the earliest on the African continent. Fifty-three years later, Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Burundi’s struggle for independence.

This article was originally published July 22, 2014.

The Burundi flag ThinkStockPhotos
The Burundi flag

1. Burundi transferred to Belgium occupation after World War I

The landlocked Central African country of Burundi was originally colonized as part of German East Africa but in 1923, Belgium won a League of Nations mandate. Burundi, along with Rwanda, was given to Belgium. After World War II, when the League of Nations was dissolved, Belgium became a U.N. trust territory.

Karera Falls, Burundi Photo: EnjoyBurundi.info
Karera Falls, Burundi
Photo: EnjoyBurundi.info

2. One of two African countries controlled by Belgium

Next-door neighbor Rwanda, another former German East African colony, was also granted independence by Belgium on July 1, 1962. Although Rwanda and Burundi were ethnically and culturally united, and once known as Ruanda-Urundi, they were granted independence separately.


3. The 1930s and ’40s formative for foreign policy

In 1933 Belgium made all people in Burundi carry an identity card that indicated their tribal ethnicity as Hutu or Tutsi. This created a distinction between the tribes that continued for the rest of the century. Since independence, the landowning Tutsi aristocracy has dominated Burundi.


4. Belgium started transitioning government in 1950s

In the late 1950s Belgium created local governments to prepare Burundians for self government. Around the same time, Tutsi prince Louis Rwangazore founded a multi-ethnic party — the Union for National Progress (UPRONA). He was assassinated in 1962 before independence.


5. The party lived on after the prince’s death

Although prince Rwangazore was murdered before independence, his UPRONA party led the first independent government in collaboration with King Mwambutsa IV, a Tutsi.


6. Hutu and Tutsi struggles still a reality

After independence, the country was controlled by Mwami Mwambutsa IV, a Tutsi king. Like in neighboring Rwanda, Burundi struggled with clashes between the Hutu and dominant Tutsi tribes who made up the majority of its population. Hutu are the most dominant ethnic group — about 85 percent of the population. The Tutsis are about 14 percent of the population. The Twas (Pygmy) make up about 1 percent of the population. From 1993 to 2006, the country saw civil war driven by ethnic tensions.

Sources: U.S. State Department


7. Rebellion soon followed

Following a Hutu rebellion, the Tutsi king was deposed by his son Ntare V in 1966.


8. Son didn’t last long either

The traitorous son didn’t last long in control either. He was overthrown in 1966, the same year he took control, in a military coup that put another Tutsi in control — Premier Michel Micombero.


9. Post independence more violent than before

Belgium gave up Burundi without violence, but the violence escalated after the Europeans left. Between 1970 and 1971 a civil war erupted that left more than 100,000 Hutu dead. Over the next 40 years more wars would wage between the two tribes leaving hundreds of thousands more dead.

Burundi GDP Growth

10. One of poorest countries in world

Today, Burundi ranks one of the five poorest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product of just $640 per capita, according to projected 2013 per capita GDP figures from the International Monetary Fund.

Pierre Nkurunziza, president of Burundi, cctv-africa.com
Pierre Nkurunziza, president of Burundi,

Democracy is elusive

The April 25, 2015 announcement by President Pierre Nkurunziza that he would seek a third term in violation of the Arusha Agreement resulted in protests and multiple deaths.

Source: U.S. State Department.