U.S. Department of State Background Note
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At 206.1 persons per sq. km., Burundi has the second-largest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most people live on farms near areas of fertile volcanic soil. The population is made up of three major ethnic groups--Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Kirundi is the most widely spoken language; French and Kiswahili also are widely spoken. Intermarriage takes place frequently between the Hutus and Tutsis. Although Hutus encompass the majority of the population, historically Tutsis have been politically and economically dominant.
In the 16th century, Burundi was a kingdom characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. A king (mwani) headed a princely aristocracy (ganwa) that 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 came under German East African administration. In 1916 Belgian troops occupied the area. In 1923, the League of Nations mandated to Belgium the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, encompassing modern-day Rwanda and Burundi. 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.
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. In 1966, King Mwambutsa was deposed by his son, Prince Ntare IV, who himself was deposed the same year by a military coup lead by Capt. Michel Micombero. 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 1976, Col. 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, Maj. Pierre Buyoya overthrew Colonel 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, multi-ethnic government, and a parliament. Burundi's first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, of the Hutu-dominated FRODEBU Party, was elected in 1993. He was assassinated by factions of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces in October 1993. The country was 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 Ntayamira and Rwandan President Juvenal 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. Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was installed as president for a 4-year term on April 8, but the security situation further deteriorated. The influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees and the activities of armed Hutu and Tutsi groups further destabilized the regime.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
In November 1995, the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) announced a regional initiative for a negotiated peace in Burundi facilitated by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. In July 1996, former Burundian President Buyoya returned to power in a bloodless coup. He declared himself president of a transitional republic, even as he suspended the National Assembly, banned opposition groups, and imposed a nationwide curfew. Widespread condemnation of the coup ensued, and regional countries imposed economic sanctions pending a return to a constitutional government. Buyoya agreed in 1996 to liberalize political parties. Nonetheless, fighting between the army and Hutu militias continued. In June 1998, Buyoya promulgated a transitional constitution and announced a partnership between the government and the opposition-led National Assembly. After Facilitator Julius Nyerere's death in October 1999, the regional leaders appointed Nelson Mandela as Facilitator of the Arusha peace process. Under Mandela the faltering peace process was revived, leading to the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 2000 by representatives of the principal Hutu (G-7) and Tutsi (G-10) political parties, the government, and the National Assembly. However, the FDD and FNL armed factions of the CNDD and Palipehutu G-7 parties refused to accept the Arusha Accords, and the armed rebellion continued.
In November 2001, a 3-year transitional government was established under the leadership of Pierre Buyoya (representing the G-10) as transitional president and Domitien Ndayizeye (representing the G-7) as transitional vice president for an initial period of 18 months. In May 2003, Mr. Ndayizeye assumed the presidency for 18 months with Alphonse Marie Kadege as vice president. In October and November 2003 the Burundian Government and the former rebel group the CNDD-FDD signed cease-fire and power-sharing agreements, and in March 2004 members of the CNDD-FDD took offices in the government and parliament. The World Bank and other bilateral donors have provided financing for Burundi’s disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for former rebel combatants.
National and regional mediation efforts failed to reach a compromise on post-transition power-sharing arrangements between the predominantly Hutu and Tutsi political parties, and in September 2004 over two-thirds of the parliament--despite a boycott by the Tutsi parties--approved a post-transition constitution. The Arusha Peace Agreement called for local and national elections to be held before the conclusion of the transitional period on October 31, 2004. On October 20, 2004, however, a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate adopted a previously approved draft constitution as an interim constitution that provides for an extension of transitional institutions until elections are held. On February 28, 2005, Burundians overwhelmingly approved a post-transitional constitution in a popular referendum, setting the stage for local and national elections. In April 2005, Burundi's transitional government was again extended and an electoral calendar was established at a regional summit held in Uganda.
In accordance with the new electoral calendar, the Burundian people voted in Commune Council direct elections on June 3, 2005 and National Assembly direct elections on July 4, 2005. An electoral college of commune and provincial councils indirectly elected Senate members on July 29, 2005. A joint session of the parliament elected Pierre Nkurunziza as President of Burundi on August 19, 2005 in a vote of 151 to 9 with one abstention, establishing the post-transition government. Finally, the Burundian people established Colline (hill) councils through direct elections on September 23, 2005.
Principal Government Officials
Burundi maintains an embassy in the United States at Suite 212, 2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-342-2574).
The mainstay of the Burundian economy is agriculture, accounting for 44.9% of GDP in 2006. Agriculture supports more than 90% of the labor force, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. Although Burundi is potentially self-sufficient in food production, the civil war, overpopulation, and soil erosion have contributed to the contraction of the subsistence economy by 30% in recent years. Large numbers of internally displaced persons have been unable to produce their own food and are dependent on international humanitarian assistance. Burundi is a net food importer, with food accounting for 13% of imports in 2003.
The main cash crop is coffee, which accounted for some 50% of exports in 2003. This dependence on coffee has increased Burundi's vulnerability to fluctuations in seasonal yields and international coffee prices. Coffee processing is the largest state-owned enterprise in terms of income. Although the government has tried to attract private investment to this sector, plans for the privatization of this sector have stalled. Efforts to privatize other publicly held enterprises have likewise stalled. Other principal exports include tea, sugar, and raw cotton. Coffee production, after a severe drop in 2003, returned to normal levels in 2004. Revenues from coffee production and exports are likewise estimated to return to pre-2003 levels.
Little industry exists except the processing of agricultural exports. Although potential wealth in petroleum, nickel, copper, and other natural resources is being explored, the uncertain security situation has prevented meaningful investor interest. Industrial development also is hampered by Burundi's distance from the sea and high transport costs. Lake Tanganyika remains an important trading point.
Burundi is heavily dependent on bilateral and multilateral aid, with external debt totaling $1.4 billion in 2004. IMF structural adjustment programs in Burundi were suspended following the outbreak of violence in 1993; the IMF re-engaged Burundi in 2002 and 2003 with post-conflict credits, and in 2004 approved a $104 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan. The World Bank is preparing a Transition Support Strategy, and has identified key areas for potential growth, including the productivity of traditional crops and the introduction of new exports, light manufactures, industrial mining, and services. Both the IMF and the World Bank are assisting the Burundians to prepare a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Serious economic problems include the state's role in the economy, the question of governmental transparency, and debt reduction.
Based on Burundi's successful transition from war to peace and the establishment of a democratically elected government in Burundi in September 2005, the United States Government lifted all sanctions on assistance to Burundi on October 18, 2005. Burundi also became eligible for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act in December 2005.
Burundi's relations with its neighbors have often been affected by security concerns. Hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees have at various times crossed into Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled to neighboring countries during the civil war. Most of them, more than 750,000 since 1993, are in Tanzania. Burundi maintains close relations with all neighbors in the Great Lakes region, including Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Burundi is a member of various international and regional organizations, including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the African Union, the African Development Bank, COMESA, the free-tariff zone of eastern and southern Africa, and the East Africa Community (EAC).
U.S. Government goals in Burundi are to help the people of Burundi realize a just and lasting peace based upon democratic principles and sustainable economic development. The United States encourages political stability, ongoing democratic reforms, political openness, respect for human rights, and economic development in Burundi. In the long term, the United States seeks to strengthen the process of internal reconciliation and democratization within all the states of the region to promote a stable, democratic community of nations that will work toward mutual social, economic, and security interests on the continent.
The United States supported the Arusha peace process, providing financial support through our assessed contributions to a UN peacekeeping force established in 2004.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenue des Etats Unis (Boite Postale 1720), Bujumbura (tel.  22-34-54).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007