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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Tutsis 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

Government repression of Tutsis and recent protests are factors increasing Tutsis’ risk of rebellion, whereas the new democratic regime may serve as an inhibiting factor. It should be noted, however, that because the democratic regime is new and it has recently repressed Tutsis, they may be at an increased risk for protest. Although the Tutsis in Burundi controlled the transitional government and military, they may be at future risk as Buyoya ceded power to a Hutu leader, Domitien Ndayizeye, on April 30, 2003, upholding the Arusha peace treaty of 2000. Even mainstream Tutsis fear that if the Hutu majority gains too much power, it will be disenfranchised or even face genocide as occurred in Rwanda in 1994. These fears resulted in the boycott of the signing of a power-sharing agreement by 10 Tutsi parties in 2004. The agreement would give Tutsis 40% of the seats in the National Assembly, whereas the Hutus would control 60%. The Senate, however, would be split 50-50 between the two groups. The power sharing agreement heightened Tutsi fears that they would face insecurity if the government was controlled by Hutus. Despite initial resistance the new agreement was put forth to the public in a referendum, which passed with overwhelming support.

Efforts to reshape the judiciary system, currently dominated by Tutsis, so as to allow more Hutus within its ranks coupled with similar military reforms to open more officers’ positions for Hutus, may help alleviate Hutu grievances, thereby creating more stability in the region. An encouraging move was made by the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, Hutu rebel organization, in 2006 when it concluded a ceasefire with the Burundian government. This was the last rebel organization opposing the government and should the government be able to integrate the former rebels into the regular army, many hope the country will maintain the relative calm with which it ended 2006.


Analytic Summary

The postcolonial history of Burundi, much like neighboring Rwanda, has been shaped by the relationship between its majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. Although a minority in Burundi, the Tutsi have been dominant socio-politically and economically over the Hutu majority, at times leading to repression and genocide. With the second-largest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa, Burundian Tutsis are dispersed throughout the country (GROUPCON = 0), with most dependent on subsistence agriculture and others working as cattle herders. 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).

In 1993, a Hutu--Melchior Ndadaye--was elected president, only to be assassinated four months later by Tutsi rebels. In the power struggle which followed (killing some 300,000 Burundians), the predominately Tutsi military regained power, and Pierre Buyoya retained the presidency in a bloodless coup in 1996. A peace agreement signed in Tanzania in August 2000 lessened the violence between the army and some Hutu insurgents. The agreement called for a three-year transition period during which democratic elections would be organized. Significantly however, key rebel groups on both the Hutu and Tutsi sides have boycotted portions of this peace process including the Tutsi boycott of the signing of the power-sharing agreement in 2004.

In 2005, elections were carried out peacefully and the legislative branch was divided according to the provisions of the power-sharing agreement. A Hutu was elected president, but appointed one Tutsi and one Hutu Vice President as dictated by the agreement. Elections were deemed fair and free.

As an advantaged minority in Burundi, the Tutsis have faced no political or economic discrimination in the country (POLDIS06 = 0; ECDIS06 = 0). The Tutsi have naturally also not faced the type of government repression reserved for their Hutu countrymen, nor have they had occasion to rebel against the government, although rumors of a coup circulated in 2006 (REB06 = 0). While they have not protested much in the past, Tutsi prisoners participated in a hunger strike in 2004 and Tutsi cattle herders petitioned against laws that would ban cattle from being within the city limits of Bujumbura, which Tutsis claim targets the Tutsi minority (PROT04 = 2; PROT06 = 1). While Tutsis do not face the same amount of incarceration nor repression as their Hutu counterparts a leader of the Tutsi group, Dr. Alphonse Rugambara, was arrested in 2001 for saying that President Buyoya had allowed rebel attacks. The government also shot into a crowd of Tutsi student demonstrators who had supported the July 2001 coup. In recent years repression, mainly along the lines of arrest and torture, was more prevalent amongst Tutsis (REPGENCIV04-06 = 0; REPNVIOL04 and 06 = 3; REPVIOL04 and 06 = 4; REPVIOL05 = 3). Tutsi civilians outside of the government however have had to face sporadic attacks from Hutu rebels (INTERCON98-03 = 1). Because they hold power, mostly conventional groups represent Tutsi interests, with militant groups reserved for young men in loosely organized Tutsi militias adamantly opposed to sharing power with the Hutu. Some conventional Tutsi parties include the mainstream Unity for National Progress (UPRONA), and the opposition PARENA (the Party for National Redress), ABASA (the Burundi African Alliance for the Salvation), and the PRP (the People's Reconciliation Party). Militant organizations for the Tutsis include the PA-Amasekanya and Sans échec.



CIA World Factbook. “Burundi.” 2003-2006.

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.

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.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. (French and English). 1990-95, 2001-2006.

Longman, Timothy P. Empowering the Weak and Protecting the Powerful: The Contradictory Nature of Churches in Central Africa. African Studies Review, Vol. 41, No. 1. (Apr., 1998), pp. 49-72.

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Minority Rights Group. Burundi since the Genocide. 1982.

Morrison, Donald George. Black Africa: A Comparative Handbook. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

Ndarishikanye, Barnabé. Rwanda and Burundi: The Question of the Protection of Minorities in Burundi. Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 26, No. 1, Central Africa in Crisis. (1998), pp. 5-9.

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