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Burundi Modern History

Burundi's modern history has been characterized by insurgency, coups and civil war, from the independence of the colonial power of Belgium in 1962 to the violent riots that erupted in connection with a contentious election in 2015. Violence between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

After the 1961 assassination of the Belgian government of Urundi, Prime Minister Louis Rwagasore, the dominant party Uprona weakened (see Older history). Uprona was supported by the power clan Bezi and led by the king's son. Internal strife came to dominate even after the independence of July 1, 1962, when several weak governments succeeded.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Burundi. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Hutu people were forced out of the influential posts in Uprona and in 1965 the Prime Minister, who was a Hutu, was murdered just one week after taking office. A coup attempt by Hutu officers was defeated and then most Hutus were forced out of the army and administration. Practically all trained hutus were murdered.

Purification of Hutus

In November 1966, the King was ousted by the new Prime Minister, Michel Micombero, who proclaimed a republic and made himself president. Uprona became the only allowed party and a tool for a Tutsielite.

Contemporary History of BurundiAfter another failed coup attempt by Hutu in 1972, between 100,000 and 200,000 Hutu were killed by the army and a few hundred thousand fled abroad. The purge of Hutu from the army was completed.

In September 1987, the then military regime was overthrown by Major Pierre Buyoya. He also belonged to the Tutsi elite and in 1988 fought another Hutu uprising. At least 20,000 Hutus were killed and about 60,000 fled to Rwanda. Then Buyoya became more reconcilable. A Hutu became prime minister, a democratic constitution was drafted and new parties were allowed.

The first free presidential election was held on June 1, 1993 and became a clear victory for the Hutuer Melchior Ndadaye of the Party of Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu). The parliamentary elections at the end of June became an even bigger victory for Frodebu.

Civil war erupts

In October 1993, President Ndadaye was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers in a coup attempt that triggered a civil war. Frodebu was allowed to retain the presidential post but was forced to give Tutsis a number of government posts. Since the new president was killed after two months in the same plane crash that cost Rwanda's president his life, Frodebu was forced into retreat by Tutsie extremists. Both Hutus and Tutsis were increasingly armed, and the army began ethnic cleansing. Almost all Hutu were driven out of the capital Bujumbura.

When the conflict escalated and seemed to be approaching a genocide, President Buyoya took over power in 1996. He appointed a civil unity government and dismissed the most compromised high-ranking military. However, the surrounding countries responded by economically isolating Burundi.

After a fragile political peace settlement, the economic sanctions were canceled in early 1999. In parallel with peace negotiations, Huturebel from the Defense Forces (FDD) and the National Liberation Forces (FNL) continued to attack Bujumbura's outskirts and several hundred thousand Hutus were gathered in the army.

The Arusha Agreement is signed

Former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa was engaged by the outside world to try to broker peace. After a number of tours, all parties signed an agreement in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, the so-called Arusha Agreement, in August 2000 (three smaller Tutsi parties signed the agreement the following month). The text drew up the guidelines for a transitional regime and general democratic elections, but left several questions unanswered, such as who would govern the country during the transitional period. The agreement also did not include a ceasefire.

The fighting continued as the parties tried to resolve the leadership issue. In July 2001, 19 parties signed an agreement on a three-year transitional government. Buyoya would be president halfway and then be replaced by vice president, Hutu Domiti Ndayizeye. Hutus received a small majority of the ministerial posts. A South African military force of 700 began to monitor peace in October.

In December 2002, the FDD put down its weapons and got the green light to be transformed into a political party. However, FNL refused to accept the ethnically mixed transition regime. Since Domiti Ndayizeye took over the presidential post in April 2003, the FDD gained seats in the government and parliament in October and was promised 40 percent of the top positions in the army.

In May 2004, the UN Security Council decided to send a force of nearly 6,000 men, called Onub, to replace the smaller, South African squad.

New constitution and division of power

In 2004, a new constitution was drafted which would come into force after the transition period. It gave the Hutu majority a tiny majority of seats in the government and parliament and - perhaps most importantly - stated that the army and police corps should contain as many Hutus as Tutsis. The Tutsis monopoly on the armed forces was the main reason why previous peace attempts had failed.

Although several Tutsi parties objected to the compromise, a large majority of residents voted in favor of the new constitution in a referendum in February 2005.

In July of that year, parliamentary elections were held. Most parties were strongly associated with either group of people, but must now compile ethnically mixed lists. That hut-dominated parties would prevail was obvious, but hardly the former militia FDD, which ran under the name of the National Council for Defense of Defense-The Forces of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), would get 58 percent of the vote. Many Hutus were disappointed that Frodebu failed to create peace and security, and many Tutsis hoped that CNDD-FDD would stand for something new.

CNDD-FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president without a counter-candidate and formed a government where his party received twelve of the 20 posts. Nkurunziza was soon criticized for not living up to the power-sharing principle. Among other things, the government's appointment policy was considered to favor Hutus. Criticism was also heard against increased corruption and incompetence.

Alleged coup attempt and internal power struggles

In August 2006 it was announced that a coup attempt had been averted. A number of politicians from different parties were arrested, including the recently resigned President Domitien Ndayizeye. This and six more people were indicted for planning to assassinate the president and overthrow the government. All denied and claimed that they had been tortured in custody. Ndayizeye and four others were acquitted in early 2007, but the other two were sentenced to long prison terms.

The details of a coup attempt were questioned in wide circles, where a power struggle within CNDD-FDD was assumed instead. Journalists who questioned the data were arrested or exposed to strong threats. Human rights organizations claimed that there were summary executions, arbitrary arrests and kidnappings. Four people who had been arrested by police were found dead.

The teardown within the party became apparent when the second vice president resigned, citing corruption and human rights violations. In early 2007, the power struggle led to the dismissal of party chairman Hussein Radjabu, who was believed to have challenged the president. Ministers who stood close to Radjabu were dismissed, as was the President of Parliament. In April, Radjabu was deprived of his legal immunity and arrested by police, accused of destabilizing the country.

The last remaining hutumilis, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), joined the ceasefire in September 2006. However, no peace agreement or disarmament was made. In the summer of 2007, negotiations stalled, and in the autumn bloody fighting broke out between rival factions of the FNL.

Settlement with huturebeller

In November 2007, the government was reformed to make room for Frodebu and Uprona, which had boycotted parliamentary meetings since July.

In April and May 2008, there were clashes between the government's forces and the FNL around the capital. About 30 people were killed and at least 20,000 were displaced. The UN sent a delegation there to mediate, and in late May, the government and the FNL agreed to a cease-fire. However, suspicion between the parties was great, and negotiations on disarming the rebels dragged on over time. Only in March and April 2009 did the FNL soldiers begin to give up arms. By then, 247 incarcerated FNL members had first been released and a new electoral commission formed. Under the agreement, 2,100 FNL soldiers were to serve in the army and 1,400 became police. FNL was officially transformed into a political party, even though it turned out that not even a thousand weapons were actually handed in.

On May 24, 2010, local elections were held under tense conditions. Among other things, they had been preceded by information about an averted coup attempt. CNDD-FDD had great success and a few days later five leading opposition politicians accused the ruling party of cheating. EU observers had no major comments on how the election was conducted and some observers said that the opposition had simply overestimated its support among the people. However, opposition leaders declared they would boycott the presidential election in June. Among those who withdrew were FNL leader Agathon Rwasa and former President Domitien Ndayizeye who would have run for Frodebu.

President Nkurunziza is re-elected

This meant that Nkurunziza was re-elected without counter-candidates following an electoral movement that was riddled with violence. The government and the opposition accused each other of providing arms to their supporters. Rwasa, who was expected to become the president's main rival, left the country in secret and was believed to have made his way to Congo-Kinshasa.

The opposition maintained its boycott when it was time for parliamentary elections at the end of July and thus the victory was secured for the CNDD-FDD, which got 81 of the 106 House seats. The party won by far even in the Senate elections a few days later.

Under continued tensions, more opposition leaders left the country. Grenade attacks were directed primarily at the ruling party. It circulated information that rebels conducted weapons training in a forest area. Rwasa was dismissed as the leader of the FNL, but the extra-partisan congress where this happened was described by party representatives as a scam staged by the government. The UN claimed in November 2010 that the FNL had a force of 700 men in the Congolese province of Southern Kivu and that it was in the process of procuring new weapons.

In 2011, the violence and peace that has taken so many years to achieve now seemed to hang on a very fragile thread.

Proposal for constitutional amendment triggers crisis

In the fall of 2013, the basis for a deep political crisis was laid when a government-appointed commission proposed several constitutional changes that would have destroyed the balance between the peoples' groups that the new constitution created. The changes would have given hutus almost total power. Although the proposals did not receive enough support in Parliament, they nevertheless pushed a wedge between the peoples groups and caused the Uprona-tipped party to leave the government.

Despite the defeat, the CNDD-FDD stuck to one of the proposals: that the president could be elected more than twice. That demand quickly grew into an imminent threat, as presidential elections would be held just over a year later, in June 2015.

According to the Arusha agreement, no president should sit in power for more than ten years. The argument that President Nkurunziza was entitled to run for re-election was that he was elected by Parliament in 2005 and elected by the people for the first time in 2010. Therefore, the government argued, the first five years would not be counted.

During the year-long countdown to the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections, the social climate steadily worsened. The UN accused the CNDD-FDD of distributing weapons to the party's infamous youth movement Imbonerakure, a loosely cohesive organization that has been compared to the Rwandan hutumilis Interahamwe, which was behind much of the neighboring 1994 genocide. respect for freedom of speech and assembly.

The coup attempt is turned down

A climate of threat and fear emerged. The UN and Western governments appealed to Nkurunziza to refrain from re-election. Also from within the CNDD-FDD came criticism of the president, which resulted in the critics being excluded from the party.

In the spring, the protests escalated and the army responded with tear gas and sharp fires to protesters. Burundians began to leave the country with the fear of their lives. The Constitutional Court approved the presidential candidacy, but it was said to have been done after strong pressure and direct threats from the regime.

After a time hint that the army did not wholeheartedly support the government, a former intelligence chief, General Godefroid Niyombare, tried to carry out a military coup in May while the president was in Tanzania. After a few days of fighting in Bujumbura, the coup attempt was defeated. Many were arrested and brought to trial.

Nkurunziza contested election victory

Several aid countries withdrew their planned financial support for the general elections, and the UN, among others, said that the political climate did not allow free and fair elections. However, when the elections were held in June 2015, they were judged by the UN as not credible, and both the EU and the African Union (AU) refrained from even sending any observers. The opposition called for a boycott. Nkurunziza was proclaimed victorious with almost three-quarters of the vote, and as expected, the CNDD-FDD gained a large majority in parliament.

Agathon Rwasa from FNL was among those who called for a boycott, but his name had remained on the ballots and he received just over 20 percent of the vote. Rwasa was also elected to Parliament. When Rwasa and other opposition politicians took their seats in parliament despite the call for boycott, they were accused of betrayal by other government critics, and the already divided opposition weakened even more.

 
 

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