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Anthropology in Burundi: Independence and Genocide

Burundi, officially the Republic of Burundi. It is a landlocked country in the Great Rift Valley where the African Great Lakes region and East Africa meet. It is ruled by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and southeast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Lake Tanganyika lies along its southwestern border. The main cities are Gitega and Bujumbura.


Twa, Hutu and Tutsi people have lived in Burundi for at least 500 years. For more than 200 years in those years, Burundi was an independent state, until the turn of the 20th century, when Germany occupied the region. After the First World War and the German conquest, it gave the area to Belgium. Both the Germans and the Belgians ruled Burundi and Rwanda as a European colony known as Ruanda-Urundi. Burundi and Rwanda had never been under the same regime until the European colonial period. Burundi gained independence in 1962 and initially had a monarchy, but a series of genocides, coups and regional instability led to the formation of a republic and a single party in 1966. The times of genocide and finally two civil wars and the genocide during the 1970s and again in the 1990s led to the death of hundreds of thousands and left the economy underdeveloped and the population one of the poorest in the world. The presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, both Hutu, died together when their plane was shot down in April 1994. 2015 saw major political upheavals as President Pierre Nkurunziza chose to run for a third term, attempts to overthrow the country and parliamentary and presidential elections were widely criticized of the world.

Minorities & Indigenous people

Burundi’s independent political system is a democracy that represents the presidential system based on a multi-party system. The President of Burundi is the head of state and head of government. There are currently 21 registered groups in Burundi. On March 13, 1992, Tutsi rebel leader Pierre Buyoya introduced a constitution, which provided for a multi-party political system and demonstrated multi-party competition. Six years later, on June 6, 1998, the constitution was amended to extend the seats in the National Assembly and to provide for the provision of two vice presidents. As a result of the Arusha Accords, Burundi established a revolutionary government in 2000. In October 2016, Burundi informed the UN of its intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.  Burundi remains a predominantly rural community, with only 13.4% of the population living in urban areas by 2019. Population population of about 315 people per square mile (753 sq mi) is the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa.  About 85% of the population are Hutu, 15% are Tutsi, and less than 1% are traditional Twa. The official languages ​​of Burundi are Kirundi and French, Kirundi is officially recognized as one of the national languages.

One of the smallest countries in Africa, Burundi’s land is widely used for subsistence farming and grazing, which has led to deforestation, soil erosion and loss of habitat. Since 2005 the country has almost completely been deforested, less than 6% of its land is covered with trees and more than that has been commercial land. In addition to poverty, the people of Burundi often suffer from corruption, poor infrastructure, poor access to health and education services, and hunger. Burundi has a large population and many young people are moving to look for opportunities elsewhere. The World Happiness Report 2018 ranks Burundi as the happiest nation in the world with 156 positions.  Burundi is a member of the African Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement.

What is genocide?

Death of people
Credit: https://wikipedia

Definitions of genocide include many legal and international legal definitions of genocide. A genetic term (Greek: birth, type, race) and the English appendix – Rideel Lemkin in 1944. However, the literal etymology of this word is a combination of the ancient Greek word  or the Latin word gēns (tribe, family) and the Latin word caedo. Despite the varied definitions of this term, almost all international legal entities legalize genocide in accordance with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Criminal Procedure (CPPCG).

These and other explanations are generally considered by many genocide experts to have “destructive intent” as the need for any act to be called genocide; and there is a growing consensus on the inclusion of a physical destruction process. They wrote in 1998 Kurt Jonassohn and Karin Björnson that the CPPCG was a legal tool created by political compromise. The terms of the agreement are therefore not intended to be a proper definition as a research tool, and although used for this purpose, as it has international legal credentials that others lack, other definitions have also been submitted. Jonassohn and Bjornson went on to say that for various reasons, they do not have the same basic definitions.

Burundi Kingdom

The first evidence of Burundi’s history goes back to the late 16th century when it originated in the eastern hills. In the following centuries it expanded, including small neighbors. The state of Burundi or Urundi, in the Great Lakes region was a law administered by a traditional king with several officers under it; successive wars were common. The king, known as mwami (translated ruler), led the princess aristocracy (ganwa) which occupied a large area and required taxes, or tribute, from local farmers (especially Hutu) and herdsmen (especially Tutsi). The Burundian government is characterized by political authorities and fundamental economic exchanges.

In the middle of the 18th century, Tutsi monarchs consolidated power over land, production and distribution through the construction of the bourgeois – a relationship of patrons and customers where the people received royal protection in exchange for taxes and land. During this time, the royal court was composed of Tutsi-Banyaruguru, who held higher social positions than other pastors such as Tutsi-Hima. At the lower levels of the community were usually Hutu people, and at the very bottom of the pyramid were Twa. The system was relatively liberal, however, with some Hutu people belonging to the monarchy and thus having a say in the operation of the state.

The segregation of Hutu or Tutsi was not based solely on ethnic principles. Hutu farmers who were able to acquire wealth and livestock were often given the highest social status of the Tutsi, some even making them the closest advisers to Ganwa. On the other hand, there are reports of Tutsi losing all their cattle and subsequently losing their status and being called Hutu. Therefore, the difference between Hutu and Tutsi was social and cultural, not just nationalistic. There were also numerous reports of marriages between Hutu and Tutsi people. In general, regional ties and national power struggles played a more important role in Burundian politics than racism.

Burundi ceased to be king when King Ntare V Ndizeye was ousted by his Prime Minister and Prime Minister of Labor, Capt. Michel Micombero, who overthrew the monarchy and declared a republic following the coup in November 1966.

Independence in Burundi

Burundi Independence Celebration

On January 20, 1959, Burundian governor Mwami Mwambutsa IV called for Burundi’s independence from Belgium and the abolition of the Ruanda-Urundi union. In the months that followed, Burundian political parties began promoting the end of the Belgian colonial rule and the separation of Rwanda from Burundi. The first and largest of these political parties was the Union for National Progress (UPRONA). Burundi’s quest for independence was influenced by the Rwandan Revolution and the associated instability and racial conflict that took place there. As a result of the Rwandan Revolution, many Rwandan Tutsi refugees arrived in Burundi during the period from 1959 to 1961.  Burundi’s first election took place on September 8, 1961 and UPRONA, a multi-racial coalition led by Prince Louis Rwagasore, received more than 80% of the vote. After the election, on 13 October, 29-year-old Prince Rwagasore was assassinated and robbed Burundi of the best and most famous people in Burundi.  The country gained independence on July 1, 1962 and officially changed its name from Ruanda-Urundi to Burundi. Burundi became a constitutional monarchy with King Mwambutsa IV, the father of Prince Rwagasore, serving as king of the country. On 18 September 1962 Burundi joined the United Nations.

In 1963, King Mwambutsa appointed a Hutu Prime Minister, Pierre Ngendandumwe, but was assassinated on January 15, 1965 by a Rwandan Tutsi who was employed by the US Ambassador. The killings took place in the wider context of the Congo Crisis in which Western countries opposed communism against the People’s Republic of China while trying to make Burundi a hotbed of anti-Congolese rebels. Parliamentary elections in May 1965 brought the majority of Hutu into parliament, but when King Mwambutsa appointed a Tutsi prime minister, some Hutu saw this as wrong and ethnic tensions intensified. In October 1965, a coup attempt by the Hutu-led police failed but failed. The Tutsi dominated the army, led by Tutsi commander Captain Michel Micombero who ousted the Hutu from their ranks and forcibly took the lives of up to 5,000 people before the 1972 Burundian genocide.

King Mwambutsa, who had fled the country in October 1965, was deposed in July 1966 and his reigning son, Prince Ntare V, ascended the throne. In November of that year, the Tutsi Prime Minister, then-Captain Michel Micombero, made another change, removing Ntare from office, ending the monarchy and declaring the country a republic, even though his one-party government was a dictatorship. As president, Micombero became an advocate for African socialism and received support from the People’s Republic of China. He laid down strict rules of order and severely suppressed the Hutu war.

Genocides and civil war

Toward the end of April 1972, two incidents led to the outbreak of the First Burundian Genocide bus crash. On April 27, 1972, a coup led by Hutu gendarmerie members led to the coastal towns of Rumonge and Nyanza-Lac, and the rebels declared it a temporary Martyazo Republic. The rebels attacked the Tutsi and all the Hutu refused to join the rebellion. During the first Hutu uprising, between 80 and 120 people were killed. At the same time, King Ntare V of Burundi returned from exile, exacerbating political tensions in the country. On April 29, 1972, 24-year-old Ntare V was executed. In the months that followed, Michel Micombero’s Tutsi-led government used force to fight Hutu rebels and kill people, killing many Hutu members. The number of casualties has never been established, but modern estimates put the death toll at between 298,000 and 370,000. In addition, a few hundred Hutu estimated to have fled the massacre to Zaïre, Rwanda, and Tanzania. After the civil war and the genocide, Micombero was mentally disturbed and retreated. In 1976, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, a Tutsi, led a bloodless protest to overthrow Micombero and began pushing for reform. His administration drafted a new constitution in 1981, which maintained Burundi’s status as a one-party state. In August 1984, Bagaza was elected head of state. During his time, Bagaza oppressed political opponents and religious freedom.

Major Pierre Buyoya (Tutsi) overthrew Bagaza in 1987, suspended the constitution and disbanded political parties. He restored military rule by the National Defense Forces Committee (CSMN). The anti-Tutsi racist propaganda spread by the remains of the 1972 UBU, which was reorganized as PALIPEHUTU in 1981, led to the massacre of Tutsi poor people in the northern districts of Ntega and Marangara in August 1988. The government set the death toll at 5,000 some international NGOs believe that this undermines the death toll.

The new regime did not impose the severe sanctions of 1972. Their attempt to gain public trust came to an end when he pardoned those who had asked for, acted upon, and recommended fame for murder. Analysts have called this period the beginning of a “culture of impunity.” Some commentators cite the roots of the “innocent culture” earlier in 1965 and 1972, when a number of prominent Hutus massacred massacres of Tutsi. Following the assassination, a group of Hutu scholars wrote an open letter to Pierre Buyoya, asking for more Hutu representation in the administration. They were arrested and imprisoned. A few weeks later, Buyoya formed a new government, with equal members of Hutu and Tutsi ministers. He has appointed Adrien Sibomana (Hutu) as Prime Minister. Buyoya also set up a commission to address issues of national unity. In 1992, the government drafted a new constitution that provided for a multi-party system but civil war broke out. An estimated 250,000 people died in Burundi as a result of various conflicts between 1962 and 1993. Since Burundi gained independence in 1962, there have been two genocides in that country: the Hutu massacre in 1972 by a Tutsi-controlled army and the 1993 Hutu massacre in predominantly Hutu. Both were described as ethnic cleansing in the final report of the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi presented in 2002 to the United Nations Security Council.



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