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Burundi, officially the Republic of Burundi, is a landlocked country in Central Africa.
Burundi was originally a native African kingdom, led by a predominantly Tutsi elite known as the Gawa. With the advent of European colonialism, Burundi became a part of German East Africa. The German administration largely left the situation in Burundi as it was. The Europeans where of the belief that the Tutsi where in fact a Caucasian race, and in their racism declared them superior to the much more numerous Hutu peoples. This led to the Tutsi dominating the government, and where generally better educated, richer, and had access to better health care.
After the defeat of Germany in World War I, German East Africa was given to Belgium as a League of Nations Mandate. The Belgians largely continued the German methods of Administration. Notably, the Belgians allowed Burundi to keep its Kingship dynasty.
During the 1940s, a series of controversial policies caused divisions throughout the country. In 1943, the Belgians divided the legislative division of the country into two tiers of chiefdoms. By this system, the Tutsi gained control of the majority of land in Burundi. In 1948, Belgium allowed Burundians to form political parties. The fractions created by this act would have a major impact on Burundi's future.
Independence and Civil War
In 1959, the King of Burundi, Mwami Mwambutsa IV, formally requested that Belgium separate its colonies into Burundi and Rwanda. Six months later, political parties had been formed to inform Europe of the issue of separation and even attempt to achieve Burundian independence.
Burundi's push for independence was influenced to some extent by instability and ethnic persecution of neighboring Rwanda. In November 1959, the local Hutu people had begun massacring the Tutsi of Rwanda, largely because of their higher standard of living and because local politicians becan blaming them for Hutu poverty. Many of these Tutsi fled to Uganda and Burundi to escape persecution. The Tutsi-dominated military in Burundi began killing Hutu peasants in retaliation for the killing of Tutsi in Rwanda. The Hutu took complete power in Rwanda following the Belgian-run elections of 1960. They began to purge not only Tutsi, but Hutu moderates. The situation in Burundi was only worsened when Prince Louis Rwagasore was assassinated in 1961, allegedly with the help of the Belgian Colonial Administration.
Burundi officially achieved independence in 1962, and almost immediately joined the United Nations. Originally Burundi was a constitutional monarch, with both the Hutu and Tutsi represented in Parliament. However, when Mwami IV chose a Tutsi Prime Minister, the Hutu felt cheated. An attempted coup by the Hutu-dominated police force was put down by the predominantly Tutsi military. When the next Hutu Prime Minister, Pierre Ngendandumwe, was assassinated in 1965, the Hutu began to stage attacks on ethnic Tutsi. The Tutsi began retaliatory attacks. Both the military and the police where now under Tutsi control.
Prince Ntare V deposed his father and claimed the throne of Burundi in 1966. The same year, the current prime minister of Burundi, Tutsi former head of the army Michael Micombero deposed Ntare, abolished the monarchy, and declared Burundi a republic, though it was in effect a military regime.
In 1972, a Hutu group, the Burundian Workers Party, began organizing attacks on the Tutsi, professing the aim of annihilating the entire people. The military responded with large-scale reprisals targeting Hutus. The exact amount of casualties occurring in the Genocide was never established, but is estimated to be around 100,000. A new constitution was established in 1981, keeping Burundi a one-party state.
Burundi was not struck by any nuclear missiles during Doomsday. Burundi had never really been aligned with the Soviets of the Americans, and thus was spared the worst of the chaos. However, the environmental after effects of the nuclear war would stress food supplies and further inflame the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsi.
The Civil war with the Hutu continued, and the Tutsi continued to gain the upper hand. From 1983 to 1989, as much as 60% of the Hutu in Burundi would be forced to leave the country.
Starvation was a serious problem in Burundi. Burundi had at the time one of the largest population densities in the world, with 323 people per km. With more Tutsi immigrants entering the country from war-torn Uganda and Rwanda, the population swelled further. The military began to forcibly organize farmers to better manage land. Although this policy was a considerable drain on manpower, it has been estimated without it the food crisis would have been twice as bad.
However, in neighboring Rwanda, the situation was rapidly deteriorating. The military there was being divided between hardline Hutu radicals, who wished for an invasion of nearby Zaire to establish a Hutu homeland, and another fraction wishing to augment their own resources with those of relatively more prosperous Burundi. The later faction was gaining strength due to the increased Tutsi population of Burundi, which the current Hutu regime was intent of exterminating.
Burundi was also at the time attempting to reduce the food shortages by stepping up deportation of non-Tutsi. The Tutsi population of Rwanda has been reduced by almost two thirds following the crisis, as they either moved to more prosperous areas or were executed by Hutu lynch mobs.
Burundi continued to become more and more Tutsi dominated. One of the methods used to avoid the looming food crisis was to decrease Burundi's population. The way Burundi had initially applied this, in correlation to its racist policies, was to deport non-Tutsi citizens. However, as time went on, more and more radicals began outright killing of Hutu and other peoples within Burundi. This only intensified the actions of Hutu guerrilla fighters operating within the country or along the disputed border with Rwanda. The Burundian military had to be increasingly called in, at some points operating beyond their borders. These "kommando" raids often generated atrocities such as massacres, mass rape, looting and arson, but Burundian central command failed to reign in their troops.
Eventually, on December 1st, 1992, the Burundi government dropped any pretense of operating their country on a purely nationalist basis, and outright declared their intention to create a Tutsi homeland. As soon as this proclamation was issued, the Burundi Military moved in from their border guard and peacekeeping operations to predominantly Hutu towns or camps of Hutu detainees, and began to outright slaughter them. The cold, calculating Burundian government refused to give valuable machine gun ammunition, which by now was a heavily regulated commodity, or artillery support to their troops. Instead, makeshift bows, hunting rifles and shotguns where used, along side spears and machetes. Fire was also used to great effect by the Tutsi; the camps where primarily made of dry wood and burned to the ground quickly.
Relations with Rwanda, already composing mainly of thinly veiled threats, plummeted. Even those Tutsi and Hutu who had yet to flee to their respective "homelands", for love of their country or pure stubbornness, did so now. Historians would later compare the situation to Nazi Germany, with added tribal tensions and without a firm foreign threat to cow it. Rwanda had yet to declare itself a Hutu homeland; it did so now.
In 1993, Michael Micombero stepped down from power due to health problems. The military, claiming the situation was too unstable to hold an election, installed Jean-Baptiste Baganza as President. Jean-Baptiste had been involved in the success of the agricultural programs, and had heavily been involved in the ethnic cleansing and deportation operations carried out by the military. All of this was no secret; the predominantly Hutu country of Rwanda was outraged by his appointment.
Baganza began pressuring the military into redirecting the majority of their "kommando" raids into Rwanda. The previous military expansion strategy was to perform these attacks in Zaire and Uganda, to weaken the locals and empower the local Tutsi refugees, before annexing the land to help abate their overpopulation and food problems. At his bequest, however, the military began to focus more on killing Rwandans then strategically gaining resources. In hindsight, this was a very bad idea.
Rgandan militia groups were organized to fight the Burundian invaders, although they often fought with primitive weaponry. With their acquisitions in Uganda, however small, Burundi was able to start trade for more coveted ammunition, largely imported into Uganda from the middle east by small traders. Burundian soldiers where therefore technologically superior and able to easily mow down these resistance groups. This only made the average Rwandan hate them more.
The Rwandan government was barely in control of their own country by this point, as most of the resources in the country were under the control of various renegade militia leaders. However, the threat of aggression, especially by a Tutsi-majority country, was enough to bring them together into co-ordinated action again. Even some Hutu warlords from Zaire joined the effort to protect to border villages and even stage retaliatory raids.
The situation was only made worse by the large amount of Hutu refugees along the border. These refugees had been deported, but where unable to travel far past the border. Any fighting along the border could easily result in massive civilian casualties.
Things came to a head in 1996, when Rwanda formally declared war on Burundi. Reports on what happened during the first few months of war are rather hazy, as no trusted source has a clear idea of what went on. However, several events have been pieced together which show that the Burundi Military began to cross the border, invading Rwanda. Burundi had a significant advantage due to its ability to find good defensive positions and functioning machine guns, leading to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of militia members. Even a few tanks are recorded as being deployed in the border conflict, although it is uncertain where these came from. It is more likely that these are simply makeshift armored vehicles, and not real battle tanks as the rest of the world imagines them.
Burundi didn't make many advances in the war. The border territory wasn't very easy to farm, and was easily within range of Hutu raiders. Although the order to stop advancing was obeyed, the Hutu continued to throw themselves at their enemy, intent not on making strategic gains as the Burundians where but rather on avenging their fallen comrades. Eventually, most sensible commanders pulled out, leading to the final collapse of the Rwandan government. The Burundi military still occupies its fortifications along the former border, however, as there are significant numbers of Hutu guerrillas still active.
2008 Coup and Elections
Burundi, after its war with Rwanda, settled down into a period of relative peace. The military continued to maintain national prosperity at the expense of foreign nations, and programs to rebuild Burundi's shattered infrastructure began.
It was also in this period that Burundi began to contact outside nations, outside Rwanda. In 2002, Burundi established informal communications with Buganda. Burundi, however, did not manage to establish formal diplomatic recognition, partly because its racist, pro-Tutsi policies and ethnic cleansing were viewed with distaste by the Bugandans.
In 2008, the people of Burundi felt secure enough that they began to feel the military dictatorship was no longer necessary. Calls for democracy were originally suppressed, but the lower levels of the military, who controlled the bulk of the weapons, were respected the most by the average Burundian, and had provided the muscle for rebuilding the country, rapidly switched sides.
Things came to a head in mid-December, when a group of soldiers stormed into the presidential palace in Bujumbura and held president Jean-Baptiste Baganza hostage. Although President Baganza maintained the support of the military higher-ups, they were unwilling to jeopardize their position of influence over what was increasingly being seen as a lost cause. An interim government ruled the country for a month, until elections could be held. Ngwe Bujura, a moderate, was elected. President Bujura halted the ethnic cleansing, claiming that the "final solution" had already been achieved. However, the tiny Hutu minority which still remained in the country, outside the government's reach, was still denied the rights of full citizens, and local militias continued their former duties with a passion.
Burundi has among the lowest GDP average in the world, and of course has an absolutely terrible human rights record. However, recently ethnic violence has died down, and GDP doesn't necessarily accurately portray wealth in Burundi, as the barter system has become common in rural areas and the government only began mandating legal tender for all interactions in 2009.
After the Election of 2008, Burundi moved from a military dictatorship to a functioning one-party democracy. That being said, the current Burundian Nationalist Party bars Burundians who oppose their central goals of Tutsi dominance, continued restriction of free speech, and careful economic control. This means no matter who is elected, the President of the Republic will almost inevitably be of the same ideals as the political old guard.
Burudi's infrastructure, damaged by the long periods of civil war, have recently been upgraded, largely by forced labour of criminals or captured foreigners. The "kommando raids" continue, largely aimed into former Zaire.
Burundi's major economic problem today is government corruption. The new President, Ngwe Bujura, has initiated massive reforms aimed to combat this problem. However, the lower levels of government remain corrupt, threatening the Burundian government's tax income, and necessitating further raids into less stable neighbors.