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Burundi - History

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. In 1965, parliamentary elections led to a greater than two thirds Hutu majority in Parliament, but the King, in the face of Tutsi opposition to the designation of a Hutu Prime Minister, appointed a member of the royal family instead. The 1965 assassination of the Hutu prime minister set in motion a series of destabilizing Hutu revolts and subsequent governmental repression.

The same year, Hutu officers attempted a coup and a Hutu youth militia massacred Tutsi families in two localities in the Province of Muramvya. This first ethnic massacre made some 500 victims. The Army, under the command of Captain Michel Micombero, a Tutsi officer from the Hima clan from the Province of Bururi, carried out a bloody ethnic repression, sided by Tutsi militias. Several thousand Hutus were killed and most Hutus were purged from positions of power.

In 1966, King Mwambutsa was deposed by his son, Prince Ntare IV, who himself was deposed the same year by a military coup led by Capt. Michel Micombero. Micombero assumed absolute power. He abolished the monarchy and declared a republic, although a de facto military regime emerged. He filled the officer corps and the ranks of the Army with Tutsis of his same clan, a situation that persists to this day. UPRONA, the sole legal party, although retaining its bi-ethnic appearance, became a mere instrument of the military dictatorship. 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. With the encouragement and support of the Western countries, in the wave of democratization that followed the end of the Cold War, Buyoya allowed a free, multiparty electoral process that culminated in the elections of 1993. Educated Hutus that had survived the 1972 massacres and had spent years of exile in Rwanda, together with a small number of Tutsis, founded the "Front pour la démocratie au Burundi", FRODEBU, which was joined by a comparatively small number of Tutsis and soon drew support in the Hutu majority.

The elections were won by the FRODEBU candidate, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, with 65 percent of the votes. In the parliamentary elections that followed soon after, FRODEBU candidates obtained 71 percent of the vote. The composition of the resulting parliament was 69 Hutus, and 12 Tutsis, including eight belonging to FRODEBU, which won 65 of 81 seats.

Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated by factions of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces in October 1993. The country was then plunged into civil war, in which tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced 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.

The Burundian government was working in 2009 to finally resolve a protracted intrastate conflict and is currently attempting to implement the last details of a ceasefire agreement with the Parti pour la Liberation Forces (Palipehutu-FNL), the country,s remaining rebel group. The FNL and the GoB signed a cease-fire agreement in September 2006, but in April 2008, the FNL staged simultaneous small unit attacks with small arms and mortars on police and military position around the capital of Bujumbura. When the FNL fired 130mm rockets into the city a few days later, the military began to drive the rebels from their previous positions surrounding the city.

After 20 days of daily fighting in the areas surrounding Bujumbura a new cease-fire declaration was signed, followed by subsequent declarations detailing timelines for implementing the ceasefire. The FNL made some movements towards beginning the demobilization process, but its commitment to the process remained suspect. The bulk of the individuals who have begun reporting to the demobilization camps was believed to be new recruits; the majority of the FNL,s actual fighters remained in the field.

The conflict has again assumed the characteristics of the low-level insurgency it resembled prior to the fighting in April 2008. The FNL frequently engaged in small clashes with FDN (Burundi National Defense Forces) and police positions, mostly in response to FNL criminal rather than insurgent related activity. Looting, ambushes against vehicles, extortion, armed robbery and grenade attacks against the civilian population are the continuing and preferred method of obtaining logistical support for the FNL in the field.

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Page last modified: 14-12-2015 14:17:29 ZULU