The Republic of Burundi is one of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa. Civil war, high HIV infection levels, and over-population have retarded economic development, and it is heavily reliant on foreign aid.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Burundi.
1. The country is landlocked but borders Lake Tanganyika.
The Republic of Burundi is landlocked by Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Rwanda. The capital and main port, Bujumbura, is on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Tanganyika is the second-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the sixth-largest lake in the world by surface area. It is estimated to be between 9 and 12 million years old and is one of the African Great Lakes. Three other countries share Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, DRC, and Zambia. The lake serves as a food source, a communication link between the countries sharing it, and a popular tourist destination. It has a large diversity of fish, plants and animals, including hippopotamus and crocodiles.
2. Burundi formed part of German East Africa from 1890.
Imperial Germany’s claims over an area of the African Great Lakes corresponding to modern-day Rwanda, Burundi, and mainland Tanzania were accepted by their European counterparts in the late 1800s. During World War I, the British occupied what had become known as German East Africa. After the war, the Treaty of Versailles gave Belgium the mandate to administer the Rwandan/Burundi section, an interesting fact about Burundi.
3. Since independence, Burundi has been plagued by genocide.
Burundi is beset by ethnic clashes that have reached genocide proportions twice in recent history. The Tutsi tribe who represent 14% of the population, control the government and economy of Burundi. In the 1970s, the Hutus, who represent 85% of the population, rebelled against the government of Tutsi President Michel Micombero. (Micombero had abolished the monarchy and declared himself president in 1966.) Government forces killed 120,000 Hutus during the rebellion.
Two decades later in 1993, Tutsi soldiers assassinated Melchior Ndadaye, the first Hutu president, elected in the first multi-party elections the year before. Three hundred thousand lives were lost in the resultant conflict. In 1994, his replacement, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and fellow Hutu, Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, were shot down in a plane over Rwanda. The incident triggered a genocide in Rwanda, resulting in 800,000 dead.
4. The classification of Hutu and Tutsi is not exclusively ethnic.
In the 16th century, Burundi was ruled by a monarch called the Mwami, and an aristocracy called the Ganwa, who owned most of the land. Hutus were predominantly farmers, and Tutsis were mainly herders. Both had to pay tributes to the monarchy for the use of land. Where a Hutu farmer managed to acquire livestock (which equated to wealth), he would often become referred to as a Tutsi, and vice versa for Tutsis who lost their cattle. Hutus and Tutsis would also often inter-marry.
5. Burundians are close to being the unhappiest people in the world.
Every year the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network releases the World Happiness Report. It is a global survey that ranks the happiness of different countries based on respondents’ perceptions of five factors: the GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. In 2018, Burundi was at the bottom of the list. An interesting fact about Burundi is that in 2019, it was ranked 145th with South Sudan last at 156th.
6. The Kagera Falls are on the UNESCO tentative list.
The Chutes de la Kagera, or the Kagera Falls, are located in the Nyakazu Fault (or German’s Gorge), south of Rutana in southeastern Burundi. The spectacular waterfalls cover 142 hectares and have six branches split over three levels. Both the falls and Nyakazu Fault were added to the UNESCO tentative list in 2007. The tentative list is where state parties submit considerations for World Heritage sites.
7. Over-population has led to almost complete deforestation.
Burundi’s population is just short of 12 million. Almost 90% of people live in rural areas and are dependent on subsistence agriculture. The country is the third most densely populated country in Africa after Mauritius and Rwanda. Rural settlements created by over-population have led to wide-scale deforestation. Only 230mi2 of forested land exists now, and it’s being infringed on at 9% per annum.
8. A Burundian runner won the 5000 meters at the 1996 Olympics.
Vénuste Niyongabo was born in Vugizo, in southern Burundi, on December 9, 1973. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, he was supposed to run the 1500 meters but gave his place to a fellow Burundian, Dieudonné Kwizera, who was in Atlanta as a coach. Kwizera had been unable to compete in prior years because Burundi did not have a National Olympic Committee. Unexpectedly, Niyongabo took the gold medal for the 5000 meters. He is also the 6th fastest person to run a mile. Today he is a member of the ‘Champions for Peace’ club, and in 2010, he sponsored the “Friendship Games” for young people from DRC and Burundi to foster friendship and fraternity through sport.
9. Sylvie Kinigi was the first female Burundian prime minister.
When the Hutu Melchior Ndadaye was made president in 1993, he appointed Sylvie Kinigi, as his prime minister. She became the first female prime minister of this country, a fun fact about Burundi. She was an economist and a Tutsi, who had held various government posts before becoming the first female prime minister of Burundi (and one of the few in Africa.) When Ndadaye was assassinated, she was asked to form a caretaker government. In 1994, the new president appointed a new prime minister and she left government.
10. Media is severely restricted in Burundi.
The most prevalent media in Burundi is radio. Most privately-owned stations were disbanded after a 2015 coup attempt, and state-owned stations dominate the airwaves. Journalists are severely restricted in what they can say and regularly face harassment. Many have fled the country. In 2019, the BBC World Service was banned for airing a documentary of which the government disapproved. Voice of America has also been suspended. Only 5% of the population has internet access.
The little country of Burundi has a sad history that doesn’t look set to shift anytime soon. I hope that this article on Burundi facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!