A protester holds a placard as they demonstrate against the ruling CNDD-FDD party's decision to allow Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third five-year term in office, in Bujumbura, on May 4, 2015 (©
Jean Pierre Harerimana, Reuters)
From the 16th century, Burundi was ruled by a monarchy from the Tutsi Ganwa aristocracy. German and Belgian colonial rule, which ended in 1962, maintained the monarchy and Tutsis (15% of the population) were given preference for positions in the army, government, and priesthood. Hutus (85% of the population) were mostly subsistence farmers on land owned by the Ganwa. In pre-independence elections the Ganwa Prince Rwagasore received 80% of the vote. He was assassinated a month later. King Mwambutsa appointed a Hutu Prime Minister in 1963. He was assassinated in 1965. In 1966, army captain Micombero carried out a coup d'état and abolished the monarchy. He purged Hutus from the army.
In 1972 the Tutsi army perpetrated The First Burundi Genocide which killed over 100,000 mostly educated Hutus and purged Hutus from civil society. 5000 Hutus were massacred in the northern communes of Ntega and Marangara in August 1988. These massacres were personally investigated at the sites of the massacres by Prof. Gregory Stanton, who then met with Burundian President Buyoya to urge him to appoint a broad, ethnically balanced government. Hutu leaders also asked Buyoya to appoint Hutus to ministerial positions, which he finally did in 1993. Buyoya gave Burundi a new constitution and a multiparty system.
Whilst these political reforms saw a Hutu President elected in 1993, the army revolted and assassinated him. Hutu rebel groups then killed over 100,000 Tutsis in The Second Burundi Genocide, prompting retributive reprisals by Tutsis and sparking a civil war from 1993 to 2005. Prof. Stanton wrote UN Security Council Resolution 1012 in 1995, which established the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. The Commission concluded that Burundi had had two genocides and could have more genocidal violence if the divisions in Burundian politics were not addressed.
The Burundi Policy Forum was established in Washington, DC to address the crisis. It included NGOs, State and Defense Department, UN, and academic experts who met monthly to plan preventive measures without the institutional silos that deter creative action. Search for Common Ground, SAIS, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Council on Foreign Relations, the State Department's Stanton and Ambassador Bogosian and former Congressman Howard Wolpe played key roles in its work.
In Burundi, negotiations between the Buyoya government and Hutu rebel groups were conducted with the assistance of President Nyerere of Tanzania and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Security was provided by South African police, who physically protected Buyoya and others in the peace talks.
The civil war ended with the implementation of a new constitution in 2005, which included an ethnic quota system ensuring a 60% - 40% ratio between Hutus and Tutsis in political and military leadership, and a 30% quota for women in parliament. The largest Hutu party, the Force for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), won the first election, and Pierre Nkurunziza became President in 2006. He was reelected in 2010 in an unopposed election.
In 2015, Burundi faced a new crisis when Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term, which seemed to be illegal according to the constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that a third term would not violate the constitution. Mass protests broke out, and the government violently shut down media and killed key opposition figures, leading to sanctions from the United States and the European Union. The army raided Tutsi homes and ethnic slurs against Tutsis were widespread.
Burundi faced economic decline and political instability under Nkurunziza’s tenure. Burundi ranks at the bottom of all nations in annual per capita income ($270). Hoping for "reform", the CNDD-FDD put Evariste Ndayishimiye forward for the 2020 election. The 2020 election was conducted without international scrutiny as opposition members were detained and the press was muzzled. Ndayishimiye has implemented no substantial political reforms despite an easing of Western sanctions.
Fear, repression, and impunity have characterized Burundi’s political culture. A 2018 press law requires journalists to provide ‘balanced’ reporting with only the government’s ‘facts’ considered publishable. In 2018, all NGOs were expelled for three months. They are now tightly monitored and restricted. Most Burundian newspapers no longer exist as their staffs have been exiled or silenced. Burundi is a police state.
The CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, intimidates voters, conducting assault, murder, and sexual violence with impunity. The International Criminal Court authorized an investigation of crimes against humanity in Burundi in 2017 and that year, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Ethnicity remains the key issue in Burundi’s politics. Since 2015 Tutsi officers have been driven out of the army. This has increased the insecurity many Tutsis feel. Social media has seen an increase in ethnic hate speech. A 2018 constitutional amendment removed the ethnic quotas safeguarding Tutsi and Twa minority representation in parliament. Land laws discriminate against the hunter-gatherer Twa (1% of the population), by expropriating their land for farming.
Due to the Imbonerakure’s ability to operate with impunity, Genocide Watch considers Burundi to be at Stage Five: Organization. Removal of ethnic quotas in parliament, the increase in ethnic hate speech on social media, and targeting of Tutsis by the army and militias, put Burundi at Stage Six: Polarization and Stage Eight: Persecution.
Genocide Watch recommends:
The US and the EU should target their sanctions to deter specific individuals engaged in repression.
The CNDD-FDD must disband the Imbonerakure and prosecute the crimes of its members.
The Burundian government allow NGOs and the press to have unrestricted access to all of Burundi.
Burundi must revoke its 2018 press law and permit free speech and a free press.
Burundi should re-join the International Criminal Court and fully accept the ICC's jurisdiction.