May 14, 2012, 4:34 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Bujumbura. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Burundi is a landlocked, densely populated nation of over ten million people in the Great Lakes Region of Africa whose history, like that of its neighbor Rwanda, has been marked by conflict and tension between its two major ethic groups Hutu and Tutsi.

The country straddles the crest of the Nile-Congo watershed. The Kagera River, which drains into Lake Victoria, is the most remote headstream of the White Nile.

Burundi's major environmental issues include:

  • soil erosion as a result of overgrazing and the expansion of agriculture into marginal lands;
  • deforestation (little forested land remains because of uncontrolled cutting of trees for fuel); and,
  • habitat loss which threatens wildlife populations.

It is susceptible to flooding, landslides, and drought.

Burundi's population is growing at an annual rate of 3.5%, one of the fastest in the world (after Zimbabwe, Niger, Uganda, and the Turks and Caicos Islands).

Burundi's first democratically elected president was assassinated in October 1993 after only 100 days in office, triggering widespread ethnic violence between Hutu and Tutsi factions.

More than 200,000 Burundians perished during the conflict that spanned almost a dozen years. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians were internally displaced or became refugees in neighboring countries.

An internationally brokered power-sharing agreement between the Tutsi-dominated government and the Hutu rebels in 2003 paved the way for a transition process that led to an integrated defense force, established a new constitution in 2005, and elected a majority Hutu government in 2005.

The government of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was reelected in 2010, continues to face many political and economic challenges.

Only one in two children go to school, and approximately one in 15 adults has HIV/AIDS.

Food, medicine, and electricity remain in short supply.

Less than 2% of the population has electricity in its homes.


Location: Central Africa, east of Democratic Republic of the Congo

Geographic Coordinates: 3 30 S, 30 00 E

Area: 27,830 km2 (25,650 km2 land and 2,180 km2 water)

arable land: 35.57%
permanent crops: 13.12%
other: 51.31% (2005) 

Land Boundaries: 974 km. Border countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo 233 km, Rwanda 290 km, Tanzania 451 km

Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

Maritime Claims: none (landlocked)

Natural Hazards: flooding, landslides, drought

Terrain: Hilly and mountainous, dropping to a plateau in east, some plains. Its lowest point is  Lake Tanganyika (772 metres) and its highest point is Heha (2,670 metres).

Climate: Equatorial; high plateau with considerable altitude variation (772 m to 2,670 m above sea level); average annual temperature varies with altitude from 23 to 17 degrees centigrade but is generally moderate as the average altitude is about 1,700 m; average annual rainfall is about 150 cm; two wet seasons (February to May and September to November), and two dry seasons (June to August and December to January)

Source: NASA

Topography of Burundi. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ecology and Biodiversity

  1. Albertine Rift montane forests (green) is an area of exceptional faunal and moderate floral endemism. These mountains also support the Mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), which is one of the most charismatic flagship species in Africa, and an effective target for much of the current conservation investment in the area. The mountain chain comprising the Albertine Rift straddles the borders of five different nations, and this makes effective ecoregional conservation a challenge in the area. Although there are a number of National Parks and Forest Reserves in the area, the recent wars have made their management difficult over much of the ecoregion. Additional threats include conversion of most forest areas outside reserves into farmland, together with logging, firewood collection, and bushmeat hunting within the remaining forest areas.

  2. Victoria Basin forest-savanna mosaic (yellow)

  3. Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands (orange) covers about 70 percent of central and northern Zambia, the southeastern third of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), western Malawi, much of Tanzania and parts of Burundi and northeastern Angola. Consisting mainly of broadleaf, deciduous savannas and woodlands, it is characteristically interspersed with edaphic grassland and semi-aquatic vegetation as well as areas of evergreen groundwater forest

Ecoregions of Burundi. Source: World Wildlife Fund

North of Lake Victoria in eastern Africa (large lake in center), fires (red dots) were scattered across the savanna in February 2003. Lake Victoria straddles the border between Ugando (north) and Tanzania (south, with Kenya to its northeast. At top left and right are Sudan and Ethiopia. At left is a portion of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Between DRC and Tanzania are Rwanda (top) and Burundi (bottom). In the false-color images, vegetation is bright green, naturally bare soil is pinkish tan, burn scars are reddish brown, water is dark blue or black, and clouds are light blue or white. Source: NASA. Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika. Source: Francesca Ansaloni.

People and Society

Population: 10,557,259 (July 2012 est.)

At about 300 persons per sq. km., Burundi has the second-largest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most people live on subsistence farms near areas of fertile volcanic soil. The population is made up of three major ethnic groups--Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Kirundi is the most widely spoken language; French and Kiswahili also are widely spoken. Intermarriage takes place frequently between the Hutus and Tutsis. Although Hutus encompass the majority of the population, historically Tutsis have been politically and economically dominant.

Ethnic groups: Hutu (Bantu) 85%, Tutsi (Hamitic) 14%, Twa (Pygmy) 1%, Europeans 3,000, South Asians 2,000

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 46% (male 2,360,214/female 2,335,541)
15-64 years: 51.6% (male 2,598,011/female 2,669,376)
65 years and over: 2.5% (male 101,207/female 151,841) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 3.104% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 40.58 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 9.36 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.18 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 59.24 years

male: 57.52 years
female: 61.02 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 6.08 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Kirundi (official), French (official), Swahili (along Lake Tanganyika and in the Bujumbura area)

Literacy: 59.3% (male: 67.3% - female: 52.2% (2000 est.)

Urbanization: 11% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 4.9% (2010-15 est.)


In the 16th century, Burundi was a kingdom characterized by a hierarchical political authority and tributary economic exchange. A king (mwani) headed a princely aristocracy (ganwa) that owned most of the land and required a tribute, or tax, from local farmers and herders. In the mid-18th century, this predominantly-Tutsi royalty consolidated authority over land, production, and distribution with the development of the ubugabire--a patron-client relationship in which the populace received royal protection in exchange for tribute and land tenure.

Although European explorers and missionaries made brief visits to the area as early as 1856, it was not until 1899 that Burundi came under German East African administration. In 1916 Belgian troops occupied the area. In 1923, the League of Nations mandated to Belgium the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, encompassing modern-day Rwanda and Burundi. The Belgians administered the territory through indirect rule, building on the Tutsi-dominated aristocratic hierarchy. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations Trust Territory under Belgian administrative authority. After 1948, Belgium permitted the emergence of competing political parties. Two political parties emerged: the Union for National Progress (UPRONA), a multi-ethnic party led by Tutsi Prince Louis Rwagasore and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) supported by Belgium. In 1961, Prince Rwagasore was assassinated following an UPRONA victory in legislative elections.

Full independence was achieved on July 1, 1962. In the context of weak democratic institutions at independence, Ganwa King Mwambutsa IV established a constitutional monarchy comprising equal numbers of Hutus and Tutsis. The 1965 assassination of the Hutu prime minister set in motion a series of destabilizing Hutu revolts and subsequent governmental repression. In 1966, King Mwambutsa was deposed by his son, Prince Ntare IV, who himself was deposed the same year by a military coup led by Capt. Michel Micombero. Micombero abolished the monarchy and declared a republic, although a de facto military regime emerged. In 1972, an aborted Hutu rebellion triggered the flight of hundreds of thousands of Burundians. Civil unrest continued throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1976, Col. Jean-Baptiste Bagaza took power in a bloodless coup. Although Bagaza led a Tutsi-dominated military regime, he encouraged land reform, electoral reform, and national reconciliation. In 1981, a new constitution was promulgated. In 1984, Bagaza was elected head of state, as the sole candidate. After his election, Bagaza's human rights record deteriorated as he suppressed religious activities and detained political opposition members.

In 1987, Maj. Pierre Buyoya overthrew Colonel Bagaza. He dissolved opposition parties, suspended the 1981 constitution, and instituted his ruling Military Committee for National Salvation (CSMN). During 1988, increasing tensions between the ruling Tutsis and the majority Hutus resulted in violent confrontations between the Tutsi-dominated army, the Hutu opposition, and Tutsi hardliners. During this period, an estimated 150,000 people were killed, with tens of thousands of refugees flowing to neighboring countries. Buyoya formed a commission to investigate the causes of the 1988 unrest and to develop a charter for democratic reform.

In 1991, Buyoya approved a constitution that provided for a president, multi-ethnic government, and a parliament. Burundi's first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, of the Hutu-dominated FRODEBU Party, was elected in 1993. He was assassinated by factions of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces in October 1993. The country was then plunged into civil war, in which tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced by the time the FRODEBU government regained control and elected Cyprien Ntaryamira president in January 1994. Nonetheless, the security situation continued to deteriorate. In April 1994, President Ntaryamira and Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana died in a plane crash. This act marked the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, while in Burundi the death of Ntaryamira exacerbated the violence and unrest. Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was installed as president for a 4-year term on April 8, but the security situation further deteriorated. The influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees and the activities of armed Hutu and Tutsi groups further destabilized the regime.

Burundi's civil war officially ended in 2006 under a South Africa-brokered cease-fire agreement with the last of Burundi's rebel groups. In 2009, the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, the last rebel group, disarmed, demobilized and registered as a political party (the FNL), in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Today the government is focused on rebuilding its infrastructure and reestablishing external relations with its regional neighbors.


In November 1995, the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) announced a regional initiative for a negotiated peace in Burundi facilitated by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. In July 1996, former Burundian President Buyoya returned to power in a bloodless coup. He declared himself president of a transitional republic, even as he suspended the National Assembly, banned opposition groups, and imposed a nationwide curfew. Widespread condemnation of the coup ensued, and regional countries imposed economic sanctions pending a return to a constitutional government. Buyoya agreed in 1996 to liberalize political parties. Nonetheless, fighting between the army and Hutu militias continued. In June 1998, Buyoya promulgated a transitional constitution and announced a partnership between the government and the opposition-led National Assembly. After Facilitator Julius Nyerere's death in October 1999, the regional leaders appointed Nelson Mandela as Facilitator of the Arusha peace process. Under Mandela the faltering peace process was revived, leading to the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 2000 by representatives of the principal Hutu (G-7) and Tutsi (G-10) political parties, the government, and the National Assembly. However, the FDD and FNL armed factions of the CNDD and Palipehutu G-7 parties refused to accept the Arusha Accords, and the armed rebellion continued.

In November 2001, a 3-year transitional government was established under the leadership of Pierre Buyoya (representing the G-10) as transitional president and Domitien Ndayizeye (representing the G-7) as transitional vice president for an initial period of 18 months. In May 2003, Ndayizeye assumed the presidency for 18 months with Alphonse Marie Kadege as vice president. In October and November 2003 the Burundian Government and the former rebel group the CNDD-FDD signed cease-fire and power-sharing agreements, and in March 2004 members of the CNDD-FDD took offices in the government and parliament. The World Bank and other bilateral donors provided financing for Burundi's disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for former rebel combatants.

National and regional mediation efforts failed to reach a compromise on post-transition power-sharing arrangements between the predominantly Hutu and Tutsi political parties, and in September 2004 over two-thirds of the parliament--despite a boycott by the Tutsi parties--approved a post-transition constitution. The Arusha Peace Agreement called for local and national elections to be held before the conclusion of the transitional period on October 31, 2004. On October 20, 2004, however, a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate adopted a previously approved draft constitution as an interim constitution that provided for an extension of transitional institutions until elections were held. On February 28, 2005, Burundians overwhelmingly approved a post-transitional constitution in a popular referendum, setting the stage for local and national elections. In April 2005, Burundi's transitional government was again extended and an electoral calendar was established at a regional summit held in Uganda.

In accordance with the new electoral calendar, the Burundian people voted for Communal Council members and National Assembly deputies through direct elections in June and July 2005. An electoral college of Communal Councils indirectly elected Senate members in July 2005. A joint session of the parliament elected Pierre Nkurunziza as President of Burundi on August 19, 2005 in a vote of 151 to 9 with one abstention, establishing the post-transition Hutu majority government. Finally, the Burundian people established Colline (hill) councils through direct elections in September 2005.

In September 2006, the last remaining rebel group in Burundi, the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, signed a peace agreement. Implementation obstacles and spurts of violence from the group slowed the process. In May 2008, the leaders of the PALIPEHUTU-FNL returned to Burundi to address the impasse and negotiate with the Government of Burundi. The two entities agreed upon a durable solution on December 4, 2008. In 2009, the PALIPEHUTU-FNL disarmed and demobilized in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Also in 2009, the FNL agreed to drop its ethnic derivative, “Palipehutu,” and the government agreed to integrate the FNL into the Burundian political system by allowing it to register and act as a full-fledged political party.

With its Communal Council elections on May 26, 2010, Burundi launched the first of five elections in 2010. The direct election of Communal Council members was followed by a direct election for President on June 28, in which Pierre Nkurunziza ran uncontested, and direct elections for National Assembly deputies on July 23. Electoral colleges of Communal Council members in each province indirectly elected Senate members on July 28, 2010. Colline (hill) Council elections were held September 7, 2010. The 2010 elections were widely considered to be the culmination of the peace process and marked the first direct presidential elections since 1993.

Government Type: republic

Capital: Bujumbura - 455,000 (2009)

Administrative Divisions: 17 provinces;

  1. Bubanza,
  2. Bujumbura Mairie,
  3. Bujumbura Rural,
  4. Bururi,
  5. Cankuzo,
  6. Cibitoke,
  7. Gitega,
  8. Karuzi,
  9. Kayanza,
  10. Kirundo,
  11. Makamba,
  12. Muramvya,
  13. Muyinga,
  14. Mwaro,
  15. Ngozi,
  16. Rutana,
  17. Ruyigi

Independence Date: 1 July 1962 (from UN trusteeship under Belgian administration)

Source: Wikimedia Commons


Legal System: mixed legal system of Belgian civil law and customary law. Burundi has not submitted an International court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction

International Environmental Agreements

Burundi is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands. It has signed, but not ratified the intetnational Law of the Sea.


Total renewable Water Resources: 3.6 cu km (1987)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.29 cu km/yr (17% domestic, 6% industrial, 77% agricultural).

Per capita: 38 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved sources of drinking water: 72% of population

Access to improved sanitation facilities: 46% of population


Burundi's economy is based predominantly on agriculture, accounting for 45% of GDP in 2009 (though more recenttle estimated at 30% of GDP). Agriculture supports more than 90% of the labor force, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. Although Burundi is potentially self-sufficient in food production, the civil war, overpopulation, and soil erosion have contributed to the contraction of the subsistence economy by 30% in recent years. Large numbers of internally displaced persons have been unable to produce their own food and are dependent on international humanitarian assistance. Food imports accounted for 12.5% of total imports value in 2009.

The main cash crop is coffee, which accounted for 55.6% of exports in 2009. This dependence on coffee has increased Burundi's vulnerability to fluctuations in seasonal yields and international coffee prices. Coffee processing is the largest state-owned enterprise in terms of income. Although the government has tried to attract private investment to this sector, only a small number (12) of the 120 washing stations were sold to a foreign private company. Efforts to privatize other publicly held enterprises have likewise stalled. Other principal exports include tea and raw cotton.

Agricultural Products: coffee, cotton, tea, corn, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, manioc (tapioca); beef, milk, hides

Irrigated Lands: 230 sq km (2008)


There is potential wealth in petroleum, nickel, copper, gold, and other natural resources; however, these resources are not being exploited. Former studies reported evidence of offshore petroleum deposits in Lake Tanganyika as well as in the plain of Rusizi, although the uncertain security situation had prevented meaningful investor interest. Despite an improvement in the security situation, the lack of adequate infrastructure--transportation and energy--has limited industrial development, which is hampered by Burundi's distance from the sea and high transport costs. Lake Tanganyika remains an important regional trading point.

Natural Resources: nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum, vanadium, arable land, hydropower, niobium, tantalum, gold, tin, tungsten, kaolin, limestone.


  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 208 million kWh
(2008 est.)
273.4 million kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
(2008 est.)
80 million kWh*
(2008 est.)
Oil 0 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
3,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
2,450 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook

* note - supplied by the Democratic Republic of the Congo


Burundi is a landlocked, resource-poor country with an underdeveloped manufacturing sector.

The economy is predominantly agricultural which accounts for just over 30% of GDP and employs more than 90% of the population.

Burundi's primary exports are coffee and tea, which account for 90% of foreign exchange earnings, though exports are a relatively small share of GDP.

Burundi from the air. Just outside Bujumbura. Source: Graham Holliday/Flickr

Road between Burundi Gitega and Bujumbura. Source: Dave Proffer/Flickr

Burundi's export earnings - and its ability to pay for imports - rests primarily on weather conditions and international coffee and tea prices.

The Tutsi minority, 14% of the population, dominates the coffee trade.

An ethnic-based war that lasted for over a decade resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, forced more than 48,000 refugees into Tanzania, and displaced 140,000 others internally.

Only one in two children go to school, and approximately one in 15 adults has HIV/AIDS.

Food, medicine, and electricity remain in short supply. Less than 2% of the population has electricity in its homes.

Burundi's GDP grew around 4% annually in 2006-11.

Political stability and the end of the civil war have improved aid flows and economic activity has increased, but underlying weaknesses - a high poverty rate, poor education rates, a weak legal system, a poor transportation network, overburdened utilities, and low administrative capacity - risk undermining planned economic reforms.

The purchasing power of most Burundians has decreased as wage increases have not kept up with inflation.

Burundi will continue to remain heavily dependent on aid from bilateral and multilateral donors--Burundi's foreign aid represents 42% of its national income, the second highest rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. The delay of funds after a corruption scandal cut off bilateral aid in 2007 reduced government's revenues and its ability to pay salaries.

Burundi joined the East African Community, which should boost Burundi's regional trade ties, and received $700 million in debt relief in 2009.

Government corruption is also hindering the development of a healthy private sector as companies seek to navigate an environment with ever-changing rules.

Little industry exists except the processing of agricultural exports. There is potential wealth in petroleum, nickel, copper, gold, and other natural resources; however, these resources are not being exploited. Former studies reported evidence of offshore petroleum deposits in Lake Tanganyika as well as in the plain of Rusizi, although the uncertain security situation had prevented meaningful investor interest. Despite an improvement in the security situation, the lack of adequate infrastructure--transportation and energy--has limited industrial development, which is hampered by Burundi's distance from the sea and high transport costs. Lake Tanganyika remains an important regional trading point.

Burundi is heavily dependent on bilateral and multilateral aid. International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programs in Burundi were suspended following the outbreak of violence in 1993; the IMF re-engaged Burundi in 2002 and 2003 with post-conflict credits, and in 2004 approved a $104 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan. In preparing a transition support strategy, the World Bank identified key areas for potential growth, including the productivity of traditional crops and the introduction of new exports, light manufactures, industrial mining, and services. Both the IMF and the World Bank assisted the Burundians in preparing a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, released in February 2007. More than 70% of Burundians live below the poverty line. Serious economic problems include the state's role in the economy and the question of governmental transparency, and debt reduction. In January 2009, the IMF and the World Bank decided that Burundi satisfied the requirements toward reaching its completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and waived $424 million in debt.

Based on Burundi's successful transition from war to peace and the establishment of a democratically-elected government in Burundi in September 2005, the U.S. Government lifted all sanctions on assistance to Burundi on October 18, 2005. Burundi also became eligible for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in December 2005, but no Burundian industries have yet taken advantage of AGOA benefits. Burundi joined the East Africa Community in 2007.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $3.672 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $1.7 billion (2011 est.)

GDP-per capita (PPP): $400 (2011 est.)

GDP-composition by sector:

agriculture: 31.1%
industry: 21.5%
services: 47.4% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 68% (2002 est.) 

Industries: light consumer goods such as blankets, shoes, soap; assembly of imported components; public works construction; food processing

Exports: coffee, tea, sugar, cotton, hides

Export Partners: Germany 25.3%, Switzerland 20.5%, Pakistan 5.5%, Belgium 4.6% (2006)

Imports: capital goods, petroleum products, foodstuffs

Currency: Burundi franc (BIF)




Administration, N., Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Burundi. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150820


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