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.
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
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.
After 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Proposal for constitutional amendment triggers
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
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
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
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.