Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding



The Republic of Burundi got its independence on July 1, 1962 from UN trusteeship under Belgian administration. It is a small country (27,830 sq km) located in Central Africa, east of Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has a population of 7,802,000 divided into three ethic groups: Hutu (Bantu) 85%, Tutsi (Hamitic) 14% and Twa (Pygmy) 1%. Most of its population practice Christianity (67% of which 62% are Roman Catholics and 5% Protestants). The rest of Burundians practice traditional beliefs (23%) and others are Muslims (10%).

Background of the conflict

The politics of Burundi is very much influenced by its ethnic configuration. During pre-colonial and colonial times, the king was a Tutsi. However, “a princely class (ganwa), which consisted of the potential heirs to the throne, interceded between the king and the Tutsi and Hutu masses.”
Tutsis occupied important positions in politics, army and controlled the economy. This was a constant source of “discord and violence” although, as observes René Lemarchand “bloodshed has not occurred on the scale seen in Rwanda, ethnic conflict has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of people being displaced from their homes.” The first Hutu to get to power was Melchior Ndadaye after the democratic election of June 1993. He was assassinated the same year, only four months after his election. Cyprien Ntaryamira, another Hutu, was chosen to take over. He also reigned during a short period from February 1994 to April 1994 as he was killed with the Rwandan President. Could these assassinations suggest that there was a need to abolish the totalitarian and exclusivist politics? The principal mission of the newly appointed president was therefore to foster unity by heading a “power-sharing coalition government”. Another Hutu, Sylvester Ntibantunganya was the nominated President. Failing to carry out this mission, he was overthrown and Pierre Buyoya, a former Tutsi President, came back.

In the meantime, there were ongoing peace talks that had started in 1995 with the former Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. These talks were concluded fruitfully in 2001 with an attempt that proved successful of alternative leadership. Buyoya started with a mandate of eighteen months and handed over to Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu, who led the country to the elections in 2005. As a culmination of this process, “a new power-sharing constitution was promulgated in 2005, and Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu, was elected president.” Pierre Nkurunziza continues to rule and still faces this big challenge of building a unified Burundi, based on democratic values of freedom and mutual respect and appreciation, values that are contrary to ethnicism, tribalism and division. The last rebellion, FNL, has recently resolved to join the demobilization process.