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Burundian Civil War
Burundi soldiers
Tutsi militia near the Zairian border, 1996
Date October 21, 1993 – August 2005
Brief resumption of combat in 2008
Location Burundi
Democratic Republic of the Congo (from 1998)
Result Peace treaty (2005)
Burundi Burundian government Hutu militias: Tutsi militias
6,000 (1993)-
40,000 (2000)

The Burundian Civil War was an armed conflict lasting from 1993 to 2005. The civil war was the result of long standing ethnic divisions between the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes in Burundi. The conflict began following the first multi-party elections in the country since independence from Belgium in 1962, and is seen as formally ending with the swearing in of Pierre Nkurunziza in August 2005. The estimated death toll stands at 300,000 killed.[1]


The origins of Tutsi and Hutu as distinct ethnic groups is unclear, but became the basis of a society organized under colonial racial schemes. In the case of the Belgians, and the Germans before them, casual observations revealed varying height differences among the resident peoples: the Twa who were short, the Hutu who were of medium height and the Tutsi who were tallest among them. It was also documented that in many cases, those who were among the tall group also raised cattle and tended to be politically and economically dominant. Those in the middle height group, on the other hand, tended to be poor and more agrarian. This prompted the use of what became known as the "ten-cow" rule. Those individuals who owned more than ten cows were described as "well-born," equated with Caucasians, and given privileges by the colonists.

The ten-cow rule was not universally applied, however, and the existence of "petits Tutsi" continues to cause much debate in the field. This much is clear, the Belgian census of 1933-34 and subsequent division of "races" exacerbated latent regional and ethnic conflicts.

When anti-colonialism swept across Africa and agitation began for independence, Belgium bolted from the colonies in a hurry. Declaring an intention not to shed blood to hold to their colonies, the Belgians declared "pas un seul soldat pour Afrique" (not a single soldier for Africa) Federation with Rwanda was rejected, and Rwanda and Burundi separated. Rwanda underwent its "Social Revolution", became a republic and Hutus killed Tutsis. Burundi chose to retain its monarchy,.

Burundi’s first multi-party national elections were held on 27 June 1993. These elections were immediately preceded by 25 years of Tutsi military regimes, beginning with Michel Micombero, who had led a successful coup in 1966 and replaced the monarchy with a presidential republic.

The last of the coups was in 1987 and installed Tutsi officer Pierre Buyoya. Buyoya attempted to institute a number of reforms to ease state control over media and attempted to facilitate a national dialogue. Instead of helping the problem, these reforms instead served to inflame ethnic tensions as hope grew amongst the Hutu population that the Tutsi monopoly was at an end. Local revolts subsequently took place by Hutu peasants against several Tutsi leaders in northern Burundi; these Hutu militias killed hundreds of Tutsi families in the process. When Buyoya sent in the army to quell the uprising, they in turn killed thousands of Hutu.


On October 21, 1993, Burundi's first democratically elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by Tutsi extremists. As a result of the murder, violence broke out between the two groups, and an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people died within a year. A 1996 UN report into Ndadaye's assassination and its aftermath, concluded that "acts of genocide against the Tutsi minority were committed in Burundi in October 1993".[2] The report also implicated senior figures in Burundi's Tutsi-dominated army in the assassination. In Burundi, Tutsi civilians have been targets of mass killings and acts of genocide organized by the state and by armed militia groups (see Burundi genocide (1993)). They were followed by a long civil war that killed both Hutu and Tutsi.

This violence prompted Buyoya to speed up liberalization and national dialogue, allowing other political parties to compete in the 1993 election. Melchior Ndadaye was democratically elected and became first Hutu president in the country’s history. He was assassinated three months later, in October 1993, by Tutsi army extremists. The country’s situation rapidly declined as Hutu peasants began to rise up and massacre Tutsi. In acts of brutal retribution, the Tutsi army proceeded to round up thousands of Hutu and kill them. The Rwandan Genocide in 1994, sparked by the killing of Ndadaye’s successor Cyprien Ntaryamira, further aggravated the conflict in Burundi by sparking additional massacres of Tutsis.

Assassination of NtaryamiraEdit

In 1994, Ndadaye’s successor Cyprien Ntaryamira was assassinated in the same plane crash with Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. This act marked the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, while in Burundi, the death of Ntaryamira exacerbated the violence and unrest, although there was no general massacre. Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was installed to a 4-year presidency on April 8, but the security situation further declined. The influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees and the activities of armed Hutu and Tutsi groups further destabilized the regime.

After the assassination of Ntaryamira the Hutu presidency and Tutsi military operated under a power-sharing political system until 1996, when Tutsi Pierre Buyoya replaced the Hutu president in a coup. Hutu rebels killed about 300 Tutsis on July 20, 1996,[3] and army soldiers killed at least 126 Hutu refugees on January 5, 1997.[4] In 1998, Buyoya and the opposition-led Hutu parliament reached an agreement to sign a transitional constitution, and Buyoya was sworn in as president. The Arusha peace talks began on 15 June 1998.[5]

The civil war, however, continued, despite the efforts of the international community to create a peace process. Ceasefire talks were held in Tanzania in 2000, facilitated by Nelson Mandela. The agreement which established a transitional government, where the presidency and vice-presidency would be rotated every 18 months, sharing power between the Hutus and Tutsis was reached. While the government and three Tutsi groups signed the ceasefire accord, two leading Hutu rebel groups refused to participate, and the fighting continued. The Arusha talks closed with little progress made on November 30, 2000.[6] 20 Tutsis and one British woman were killed on 28 December 2000, in the Titanic Express massacre.

On 18 April 2001, an attempted coup failed.[7] The transitional government was implemented in October 2001. 300 boys were kidnapped from Museuma College on November 9, 2001.[8] Main Hutu rebel groups had still refused to sign a ceasefire agreement at this time, and 500 rebels were killed in their own attack against the Tutsi army on December 25, 2001.[9] This resulted in increased fighting for several months. The 9 September 2002 Itaba massacre left hundreds of unarmed civilians dead.

Presidency of NdayizeyeEdit

Pierre Nkurunziza - World Economic Forum on Africa 2008

Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president in 2005

On 9 April 2003, the force headquarters of the African Union Mission in Burundi was established in Bujumbura under South African Major General Sipho Binda. On 18 October 2003, it was announced that the mission had reached full strength: 1,483 South Africans, 820 Ethiopians, and 232 personnel from Mozambique.[10]

In July 2003, a rebel attack on Bujumbura left 300 dead and 15,000 displaced.[11] Also in July, Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu, took over as president of the transitional government, and Buyoya stepped down. Along with the main Hutu rebel group, National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), President Ndayizeye signed a ceasefire agreement at a summit of African leaders in Tanzania in November 2003. Under the agreement, the FDD became a political party, and it was decided that rebel Hutu fights were to be integrated into the predominately Tutsi armed forces. On December 29, 2003, Archbishop Michael Courtney, the papal nuncio for the country, was murdered.

Disaster occurred in 2004 when the Hutu rebel group, Forces of National Liberation (FNL), claimed responsibility for killing 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees in a United Nations camp at Gatumba near the Congo border in Burundi. The attack was strongly condemned by the U.N. Security Council, which issued a statement of outrage at the fact that "most of the victims were women, children and babies who were shot dead and burned in their shelters.[12] The Council called on the top U.N. envoy in Burundi to investigate the incident with a U.N. representative from Congo, a step that increased U.N. intervention in the Burundi civil war. A few months later in December, U.N. and government forces began to disarm thousands of Burundi soldiers and former rebels.

Peace processEdit

Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia, Bjumbura, Burundi 012210 (4324781393)

Burundian government soldiers in 2006, shortly after the conflict's end.

In 2005, many developments were made in the peace process. The president signed a law in January 2005 to initiate a new national army, consisting of Tutsi military forces and all but one Hutu rebel groups. The Constitution was approved by voters in a referendum—marking the first time for Burundians to vote since 1994. They voted again in the July during the parliamentary elections, postponed from November 2004,[13] in which "the Government of Burundi and the Independent National Electoral Commission conducted a technically-sound election, carried out in an atmosphere of peace and security."[14] The FDD ended up being the winning party for the parliamentary elections. Several months later, Pierre Nkurunziza, from the Hutu FDD group, was elected as president by the two Hutu-dominated houses of parliament.

After 12 years of living with a midnight-to-dawn curfew, Burundians were free to stay out late when the curfew was lifted on April 15, 2006, for the first time since 1993.[15] This signified the most stable point in Burundi civil affairs since the assassination of Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye and the beginning of the civil war.

Matters continued to look prosperous after Burundi’s last rebel group, the Forces of National Liberation (FNL) signed a ceasefire deal in Tanzania, "solidifying the end of a 12-year civil war."[16][17] As part of the agreement, members of the FNL were to be assembled, demobilized, and integrated into the national army. . In mid-April 2008, FNL rebels shelled the capital, Bujumbura, while fighting killed at least 33.[18]


  1. "Heavy shelling in Burundi capital". BBC News. April 18, 2008. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  2. "Part V: Recommendations - II. Genocide". International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  4. "Burundi Army Admits It Killed 126 Hutu Refugees". The New York Times. January 12, 1997. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  6. "Burundi peace talks close with little progress". CNN. November 30, 2000. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  7. "Burundi coup attempt falters, army says". CNN. April 18, 2001. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  8. "300 boys kidnapped in Burundi". CNN. November 9, 2001. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  9. "Burundi army 'kills 500 rebels'". BBC News. December 25, 2001. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  10. Helmoed-Romer Heitman, 'Burundi mission at full strength,' Jane's Defence Weekly, 29 October 2003, 16
  12. "U.N. Demands Justice After Massacre of 150 Refugees in Burundi". The New York Times. 2004-08-16. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  13. "Burundi peace poll postponed". BBC News. 2004-10-15. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  14. "Burundi Civil War". Global Security. 11-7-2011. Retrieved 10-21-2012. 
  15. Lacey, Marc (April 15, 2006). "Burundi: Curfew Lifted After 13 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  16. "Burundi Rebel Group Expected to Disarm". The New York Times. 2004-08-16. Retrieved 2006-09-10. 
  18. Burundi rebels shell capital : Mail & Guardian Online

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