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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Hutus in Burundi

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Burundi Facts
Area:    27,830 sq. km.
Capital:    Bujumbura
Total Population:    5,970,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Hutus in Burundi remain at risk for rebellion due to 1.) recent repression and 2.) recent rebellion. A factor that may now inhibit future rebellion by the Hutus in Burundi is that, since 2005 elections, they now reside under a democratic regime.

Despite the conclusion of the 2000 Arusha peace treaty, intergroup communal conflict continues in Burundi, and Hutu rebel groups have only recently accepted its terms. Buyoya was sworn in as president of the government on November 1, 2001. In 2002, he acted further to implement the 2000 peace treaty by firing half of his cabinet and replacing them with Hutus. Buyoya further upheld the peace agreement by leaving his post as President, when Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu, was sworn in on April 30, 2003. Additionally, members of Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (FDD), a rebel Hutu organization, began in November 2003 the integration process into the government army. Another Hutu militia, Forces nationales de libération (FNL) remains in violent opposition to the government until 2006 with some resulting calm after a ceasefire agreement in September.

In 2004 a power sharing agreement was reached in Pretoria, South Africa, dividing the National Assembly into 60% Hutu and 40% Tutsi with a 50-50 split in the Senate. Ending the transitional government, peaceful elections were held in 2005 in which the CNDD-FDD, a former Hutu rebel organization, gained 59 of 100 seats in the National Assembly. In August of the same year, a new president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was elected by the legislature and inaugurated in what many hope will be the beginning of newfound stability and peace for the Great Lakes region.

Recent rebellion and government repression in which hundreds of Hutus were targeted for arrest, summary executions and torture as members or sympathizers of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL rebel group are factors placing the group at risk of continued rebellion. However, on September 7, 2006, a ceasefire agreement was reached with the Hutu-led PALIPEHUTU-FNL militant organization that had been involved in fighting the government’s FAB (Forces armées du Burundi), which later changed its name to FDN (Forces pour la défense nationale). The government’s ability to integrate the former FNL militants into the regular army will determine the durability of the calm in Burundi at the conclusion of 2006.

While 2005 democratic elections and a newly approved constitution, calling for power sharing between the groups, may help alleviate some tension and be a factor inhibiting rebellion, insecurity remains. As the new fledgling democracy takes hold, any instability in the newly-elected government may put the group at increased risk of protest.

The condition of Hutus in Burundi remains tenuous due to continued violence and Tutsi fears that a Hutu-dominated government will lead to the type of large-scale violence seen in 1993 or to genocide like that which occurred in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. Despite such obstacles, one should feel cautiously optimistic that at least most Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi have agreed that the only stable solution for their divided country lies in political negotiation; only time will tell if those opposed to peace will turn this sentiment around.


Analytic Summary

Precolonial Burundi was led by the Ganwa family, which was careful not to identify with either Tutsis or Hutus as tensions existed due to the Tutsis being politically and economically dominant. The postcolonial history of Burundi, much like neighboring Rwanda, has been shaped by the relationship between its majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. Although an overwhelming majority in Burundi, the Hutu have been dominated socio-politically and economically by the Tutsi minority, at times leading to repression and genocide. With the second-largest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa, Burundian Hutus are dispersed throughout the country (GROUPCON = 0), with most Hutus living on farms near areas of fertile volcanic soil in an agrarian economy. It is also well documented that the Hutu-Tutsi distinction is largely one of class and not necessarily ethnicity (intermarriage between the groups remains high), as language, religion, and social customs are similar between the two groups (LANG = 0; BELIEF = 0; CUSTOM = 0).

Contemporary analysis of the condition of Hutus in Burundi begins in 1993 when for the first time in its history, a Hutu -- Melchior Ndadaye -- was elected president, only to be assassinated four months later. In the power struggle which followed (killing some 300,000 Burundians to date), the predominately Tutsi military regained power, and Pierre Buyoya retained the presidency. A peace agreement, signed in Tanzania in August 2000, lessened the violence, calling for a three-year transition period during which democratic elections were organized, and provided the Hutus with equal representation in the Army. However, throughout the transition period, key rebel groups on both the Hutu and Tutsi sides boycotted this peace process, including in 2004, when 10 Tutsi political parties refused to sign a power-sharing agreement in which they would receive 40% of the National Assembly seats compared to the Hutus’ 60%. The power-sharing agreement was approved by a number of Hutu organizations, however, and passed a popular referendum in 2005.

In the past, Hutus have faced exclusionary political discrimination although the current constitution, beginning with elections in 2005, attempted to introduce power-sharing to help alleviate the inequities. The government continued to struggle with Hutu inequity in the judicial branch, however (POLDIS04 = 3; POLDIS05-06 = 1). In the economic sphere as well, Hutus have faced social exclusion where the Tutsis gain governmental favoritism for key positions (ECDIS06 = 3). In order to preserve its power, the Burundian government has often resorted to tactics of repression, such as group arrests, torture, and reprisal killings after soldiers were killed in combat with Hutu rebel groups (REPGENCIV04-06 = 5; REPNVIOL05 = 3; REPVIOL04-06 = 5), and prior to the signing of the 2000 peace agreement, the Hutu insurgency could be aptly described as large-scale guerilla activity (REB99-00 = 6). There were no rebellions reported in 2001, but there was sporadic political banditry and terrorism resulting in the death of 12 Hutus who were allegedly part of the FDD in 2003 (REB02-03= 1). Intermediate scale guerrilla activity carried out by the FNL spiked in 2004 before tapering off in 2005 and 2006 (REB04 = 5; REB05-06 = 1).

Other repressive tactics used by the government such as forced resettlement was discontinued as an official policy in 2001, although some Hutus remained displaced due to the government’s previous policies. Furthermore, no incidences of property confiscation nor of show trials were reported in 2001-2003. While no leaders or members were executed form 2001-2003, twelve members of the Hutu ethnicity were sentenced to death in 2002 for their involvement in the 1993 violence in Burundi.

The Hutus have chosen both conventional and militant means to attain power. Conventional Hutu organizations include FRODEBU (Burundi Democratic Front), the opposition party that had power in 1993, the Parti pour le redressement national (PARENA), the National Recovery Party, and Solidarité jeunesse pour la défense des droits des minorités (SOJEDEM)--Youth Solidarity for the Defence of Minority Rights. Militant organizations include: the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People/National Liberation Front (PALIPEHUTU-FNL), which was the last militant organization to sign a ceasefire with the government and the National Council for Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), which begins disarming and joins the government starting in 2003.



CIA World Factbook. “Burundi.” 18 Dec. 2003

Christian Science Monitor, various issues, 1990-95.

Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 1994. Washington, DC: Gale Research, Inc., 1994.

Daniels, Morna, comp. Burundi. Santa Barbara: CLIO Press, 1992.

Eggers, Ellen K. Historical Dictionary of Burundi. The Scarecrow Press, Inc.: London, 1997.

Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), Africa, 1990-94.

Harris, Gordon, comp. Organization of African Unity. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Human Rights Watch. Arming Rwanda: The Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses in the Rwandan War. January 1994.

Human Rights Watch. Overview: Burundi. January 2006.

Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-94.

Lemarchand, Rene. "Burundi: The Politics of Ethnic Amnesia." In Genocide Watch, ed. Helen Fein. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

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Nexis/Lexis (French and English): Agence France Presse, Africa News, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Ethnic Newswatch, Facts on File, Le Monde, Le Figaro, Reuters (numerous issues), all 1990-2006.

Philip's Geographical Digest 1994-95. London: Reed International Books, Ltd., 1994.

Rwabahungu, Marc. Au Coeur des crises nationales au Rwanda et au Burundi : La lutte pour les ressources. Institut de Recherche des Nations Unies pour Développement Social. L’Harmattan : Paris, 2004.

Saha, Santosh C., ed. Perspectives on Contemporary Ethnic Conflict: Primal Violence of the Poiltics of Conviction? Lexington Books: Lanham, UK, 2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006