Burundi History

Burundi History


In the history of the country, as in Rwanda, Tutsi-ruled kingdoms existed in Burundi until the 19th century. The territory of the pre-colonial kingdom “Urundi” was identical to today’s territory of Burundi. There was a complicated social structure subdivided into kingdoms. The monarchy was shaped less by ethnic conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis or their struggle for supremacy than by disputes within the aristocratic classes who were subordinate to the king (Mwami) in a kind of feudal rule. In contrast to the Rwandan area, these rulership structures, known as the Ganwa nobility, were a special feature of pre-colonial Burundi. You could even call it designate their own ethnic group, as they were not purely Tutsi or Hut groups. Social mobility from Hutu to Tutsi was possible and weddings between Hutu and Tutsi were frequent. The Ganwa princes claimed leadership of the provincial governor’s post and gained power over time. The Ganwa families were named after royal ancestors. The first king of Burundi is Ntare III, who ruled from 1680 to 1709, his successor was Mwezi III (1709 – 1739). The descendants of King Ntare were known as Tare, the sons of King Mwezi as Bezi. When the Europeans came to Burundi, two large Ganwa groups faced each other, who also waged war among themselves and controlled the king in his position. According to aristmarketing, until well into the 20th century, conflicts within the Ganwa nobility shaped the political events of Burundi through the membership of different presidents in different noble families Mwezi IV Gisabo (1850-1908). There are also the first photos of him taken by missionaries.

Colonial times

At the end of the 19th century, Urundi and Rwanda became part of German East Africa at the Berlin Conference. In the colonial era, some existing ethnic and social tensions were intensified, as the colonial rulers used the existing social structures and indirect rule in the form of a residency arose. In 1897 the Usumbura military station (today’s Bujumbura) was founded on Lake Tanganyika. However, the Germans approached the kingdom only hesitantly because it was considered dangerous and had much less influence here than in Rwanda. The first missionaries, for example, were murdered, so that the church had to overcome more popular resistance than in Rwanda. When the Germans came to Burundi, King Mwezi Gisabo ruled the country. After his death in 1908, his son Mutaga IV became king. After this the age of 23 years – allegedly in a fight – died, his son, two-year Mwambutsa IV Bangiricenge, enthroned and ruled until the takeover of the monarchy by his son Charles Ndizeye (Ntare V) 1966.

1916 took over Belgium, the colonial rule in Urundi, from 1924 to 1945 the country was the Belgian League of Nations mandate, from 1947 to 1957 it was held by the UN trusteeship managed. Like the German colonial rulers before them, the Belgians left the existing structures relatively untouched. The Belgians introduced coffee growing in Burundi and stepped up infrastructure development. However, the exploitation of the Congo also partially affected Burundi.

Burundi History

Post-colonial development

In the course of decolonization, political parties were admitted at the end of the 1950’s and Burundi was granted independence as a constitutional monarchy in July 1962. From this point on, the Tutsi minority dominated the political and economic life of the small Central African state. The following years until 1966 were marked by political turmoil with several changes of government and ongoing conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi. The majority of the population was very reluctant to give up the monarchy; many wanted the kingdom to continue under King Mwambutsa, who had ruled since 1915. Mwambutsa’s eldest son,Prince Louis Rwagasore, who founded the UPRONA party in 1960, advocated ethnic balance and the independence of Burundi. However, he was murdered as early as 1961. To this day, Rwagasore is revered by the people of Burundi as a hero of independence. Mwambutsa gives power to his son Charles Ndizeye (Ntare V) in 1966. But in the same year the Tutsi military eliminated the monarchy and thereby consolidated Tutsi dominance in Burundi. Ndizeye fled abroad but then returned to Burundi, where he died in 1972. The circumstances of his death have not yet been clarified. The Tutsi-dominated UPRONA party provided the first president of the republic,Michel Micombero. Again and again there are cruel conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi, especially in 1972, when in the course of a coup attempt by the Hutu almost the entire Hutu elite was murdered by the Tutsi government and thousands of Hutus left the country, especially for neighboring Tanzania. To this day, the bereaved are trying to get this event recognized as genocide – without success. The murder of thousands of Hutu in 1972 remains an extremely stressful historical event in Burundian history, which is being instrumentalized more and more against the background of Pierre Nkurunziza’s political situation becomes. Even if ethnicization of the conflict is always denied after 2015, government circles are increasingly trying to burden the Tutsi elite – also with this event – and to stir up negative resentment.

From 1976 to 1987 the Tutsi Jean-Baptiste Bagaza (1947 – 2016), who came to power through a largely bloodless coup, ruled, who was in turn replaced by the Tutsi Pierre Buyoya in a bloodless military coup. At the end of the 1980’s, political liberalization processes were intensified under Western pressure and the multi-party system was reintroduced; In 1993 Hutu Melchior Ndadaye won the elections. Just six months later he was murdered, what bloody conflictswith several thousand deaths and a new wave of refugees. The country was shocked. Thousands of people – especially Hutu – fled to Rwanda and fueled the conflict against the Tutsi there. Ndadaye became the hero of Burundi’s democracy, which started out promisingly but was so quickly nipped in the bud. The new Hutu head of state, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was killed in a plane crash in 1994, along with the Rwandan president. This accident is believed to have triggered the genocide in Rwanda. In the following years (1994-1996) there were repeated bloody conflicts in Burundi, in which an estimated total of 300,000 people were killed, but a genocide like the one in Rwanda is largely absent.

This chronology provides an overview of the most important historical events since Burundi’s independence.