Burundi, officially the Republic of Burundi, is a small, landlocked country lying just between the Equator in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Despite its natural wealth and interesting people, Burundi has been plagued by ethnic conflict and political instability. Here are some interesting facts about Burundi.
Facts about Burundi
1. Burundi is quite small.
Burundi has a total area of 27,834 km² (10,747 sq mi), which makes it the 142nd largest country in the world. Comparatively, it is slightly larger than the US state of Massachusetts.
2. Burundi shares a land border with three countries.
Burundi is bordered by Rwanda (315 km/196 mi) to the north, Tanzania (589 km/366 mi) to the east and southeast, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (236 km/147 mi) to the west.
3. Burundi is the second-most densely populated country in mainland Africa.
With a population of over 12 million, Burundi is the second-most densely populated country in mainland Africa, only being eclipsed by its neighbor Rwanda.
4. Burundi is part home to the longest freshwater lake in the world.
Burundi is part home to Lake Tanganyika which is the world’s longest freshwater lake. In addition to that, Lake Tanganyika is also the second-oldest freshwater lake in the world, the second-deepest lake. and the second-largest by volume, in all cases after Lake Baikal in Russia.
Burundi shares Lake Tanganyika with Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Zambia.
5. About half of Burundi’s terrain is mountainous.
About half of Burundi’s terrain is hilly and mountainous. Burundi’s average elevation is 1,504 m (4,934 ft) above sea level. Burundi’s mountains are located in the western part of the country, form part of the divide between the basins of the Nile and Congo Rivers.
They extend the entire length of the country from north to south, forming a series of long, narrow ridges. From the mountains eastward, the land declines gradually, dropping to about 1,400 m (4,600 ft) toward the southeastern and southern border.
6. The highest point in Burundi is 2,684 m (8,806 ft) above sea level.
Found in the Burundi Highlands mountain range approximately 20 km (12 mi) to the east of Lake Tanganyika, Mount Heha is the highest point in Burundi at 2,684 m (8,806 ft) above sea level.
7. The lowest point in Burundi is 772 m (2,533 ft) above sea level.
The lowest point in Burundi is Lake Tanganyika. 772 m (2,533 ft) is quite high for a low point!
8. Burundi was initially inhabited by the Twa.
The first known inhabitants of what is now Burundi were the Twa, a Pygmy tribe of hunters. Like all other African Pygmies, the Twa average about 1.5 m (5 ft) in height.
9. Burundi is home to two main ethnic groups.
As in neighboring Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi are the principal ethnic communities in Burundi. with the Hutu constituting the overwhelming majority and the Tutsi a significant minority. Roughly 84% of Burundi’s population are of Hutu ethnic origin, 15% are Tutsi and fewer than 1% are indigenous Twa.
The Hutu are a Bantu agricultural tribe, who presumably occupied present-day Burundi around the 10th century. The Tutsi are presumed to be of Nilotic (people indigenous to the Nile valley) origin and first penetrated the area in the 14th or 15th century.
Common stereotypes of the Hutu as short and stocky and the Tutsi as uniformly tall and graceful may be true to a small extent but don’t really hold up because the two groups have frequently intermarried over the centuries. As such, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi is mostly considered to be a socio-cultural concept, instead of a purely ethnic one.
10. The borders of Burundi were not created by European powers, unlike many other sub-Saharan African countries.
The borders of Burundi were not created by European powers. Instead, they were conceived by the original Kingdom of Urundi (Burundi) which sprung up in the late-16th century.
11. Burundi is a former German colony.
In 1890, the kingdom of Urundi (Burundi), along with the kingdom of Ruanda (Rwanda) and Tanganyika, was colonized by Germany and incorporated into German East Africa.
12. Burundi is a former Belgian colony.
As part of the Allied East African Campaign during World War I, Ruanda and Urundi were occupied by the Belgians in 1916. Burundi was merged with neighboring Rwanda and the two were collectively known as Ruanda-Urundi. After World War I when Germany lost its colonies, as outlined in the Treaty of Versailles, Belgium was formally allocated Ruanda-Urundi.
13. Burundi achieved independence in 1962.
The late 1950s saw the emergence of African anti-colonial nationalism in the Belgian Congo. Ruanda-Urundi became independent on 1 July 1962 and was broken up along traditional lines as the independent Republic of Rwanda and Kingdom of Burundi.
14. Burundi is a unitary dominant-party presidential constitutional republic.
The president of Burundi is the head of state and head of government of the Republic of Burundi. He is also commander-in-chief of the National Defence Force. A presidential term is seven years, and a president can serve two terms.
15. Burundi has been plagued by ethnic conflict between the usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.
Traditionally, the Hutu have been farmers, while the Tutsi have been pastoralists. After settling in Burundi, the Tutsi gradually subjugated the Hutu, and beginning in the 16th century, these ties were adapted to include a Tutsi monarchy.
The seeds of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Burundi were sown during colonial rule. Until then, relations between the Hutu and their Tutsi overlords had been fairly amicable. Creating a policy of racial segregation, the Europeans played on ethnic differences to divide and conquer the population
The relationship between the two groups exacerbated during the colonial period when the German and Belgian colonial administrators favored the Tutsi over the Hutu. The colonialists only allowed Tutsis to attain higher education and hold positions of power. Under this policy, the Tutsi minority generally enjoyed its historically high status as aristocrats, whereas the Hutu occupied the bottom of the social structure.
After Burundian independence, the minority Tutsi maintained their control of the military and government through a campaign of violence against the Hutu. Although they lost multi-party elections in 1993, two assassinations and a military coup allowed the Tutsi to remain in power.
16. Burundi has seen two mass genocides.
After Burundi gained independence, the Tutsi-dominated government became increasingly extreme. In 1972, the regime carried out genocide against the educated members of the Hutu, massacring more than 100,000 people over a period of three months. Some estimates place the death toll as high as 300,000. Another 100,000 Hutu fled into neighboring countries.
In June 1993, the leading political party FRODEBU (Front for Democracy in Burundi) with its Hutu candidate Melchoir Ndadaye won the elections and formed the first Hutu government in Burundi.
Tensions flared with gangs of Tutsi and Hutu attacking each other around Bujumbura culminating in the killing of Ndadaye in October of the same year. Radical Hutus and FRODEBU members killed about 25,000 Tutsi in reprisal. In 2002, a UN-led inquiry affirmed that this particular episode in Burundi’s history was indeed a genocide against the Tutsi.
17. Burundi saw a brutal civil war between 1993-2005.
The recent Burundi civil war between the country’s ethnic Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated army began in 1993 and ended in 2005 when the last of several rebel groups agreed to join the government and integrate its forces into the national army. During the conflict, an estimated 1.2 million Burundians have been displaced and 300,000 killed.
18. French, English, and Kirundi are the three official languages of Burundi.
Kirundi (Rundi) is a Bantu language that is the standard medium of communication throughout Burundi. Kirundi is also recognized as the national language of Burundi.
One of the interesting facts about Burundi is that both the Hutu and Tutsi, who together form the overwhelming majority of the country’s population speak Kirundi, unlike many other places in sub-Saharan Africa.
Being a former Belgian colony, it’s quite natural that the French language has carried over into Burundian society and is widely used in higher education and administration. However, only between 3 and 10 percent of the population can speak French fluently. In 2014, Burundi declared English an official language.
19. Christianity is the predominant religion in Burundi.
The religious makeup of Burundi is composed of a vast majority of Christians with about 60% of Catholics and 15% of Protestants and Anglicans. About 20-25% of the population adheres to traditional indigenous beliefs and religion. Finally, there is a minority of an estimated 5% of Muslims.
20. Burundi doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Burundi.
21. The currency of Burundi is the Burundian franc (BIF).
The Burundian franc has been in use since 1964 when it replaced the Ruanda-Urundi franc.
22. Burundi has two capital cities.
One of the more unique Burundi facts is that it officially has two capital cities. In 2019, the Burundian parliament decided to make Gitega the political capital of the country while Bujumbura would remain its economic capital.
23. The largest city in Burundi is Bujumbura.
Bujumbura is located on the north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Bujumbura’s name prior to independence in 1962 was Usumbura. It is Burundi’s commercial, economic and cultural hub. It is home to the country’s only international airport.
24. Burundi has only won two medals at the Olympics.
Burundi first competed at the Summer Olympics in 1996 and has won only two medals—a gold and a silver. The former Burundian long and middle-distance runner Vénuste Niyongabo won gold in the men’s 5000 meters at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Francine Niyonsaba added a silver 20 years later in the women’s 800 meters at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Burundi has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
25. The national flag of Burundi has three colors.
The national flag of Burundi consists of a white saltire that divides the field into alternating red and green areas. The center of the saltire merges into a white disk, on which there are three red solid six-pointed stars outlined in green.
The green color symbolizes hope, the white symbolizes peace, and the red represents those who fell in the struggle for independence. The three stars represent the three ethnic groups that make up the majority of Burundi’s population and the three parts of the national motto.
26. Burundi’s motto is “Ubumwe, Ibikorwa, Iterambere” which means “Unity, Work, Progress” in Kirundi.
Quite ironically, unity and progress have been elusive since independence as the country is divided along political and ethnic lines. Unfortunately, persistent ethnic and class conflicts, civil wars, and genocides have meant that Burundi hasn’t seen much progress either and it is ranked as one of the poorest nations on the planet.
27. Burundi’s economy is centered around agriculture which employs around 90% of the workforce.
The Burundian economy is an agricultural and livestock economy with about 90% of the workforce engaged in subsistence agriculture. With high illiteracy levels coupled with poor industrial skills and lack of capital, most Burundians resign themselves to their land as the primary source of their livelihood.
Part of the reason Burundi is so heavily dependent on agriculture is also due to Burundi being a landlocked country and one which lacks significant mineral wealth. Bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, and manioc are Burundi’s staple crops, followed by beans, taro, and maize.
28. Burundi ranks number ten in the world in terms of fertility rate.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Burundian women give birth to 5.1 children on average.
29. Cattle equates to wealth in Burundi.
Burundians revere cattle. Cows are a symbol of happiness, health, and prosperity in Burundi. Traditionally in Burundian society, the more cows you have, the higher your social status. Cows are often used as dowry during marriages in the country.
30. Burundi drives on the right.
Vehicles in Burundi stick to the right-hand side of the road.
31. Burundi was the first member country to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On 27 October 2017, Burundi officially left the International Criminal Court (ICC) becoming the first member country in the world to do so.
32. Football is the most popular sport in Burundi.
Like in most of Africa, football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Burundi. Unfortunately, the country’s men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
33. Burundians drink beer through straws.
Beer is an important drink for social interactions in Burundi. Beer in Burundi is traditionally brewed from sorghum and bananas and is drunk by sitting circularly and placing a large communal jug at the center.
More than a dozen people then use hollow reed straws to sip the brew. This unique habit has carried on to the young generation, and it is common to see people drink beer through straws in bars.
34. There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Burundi.
Burundi is one of the few countries in the world without a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, there are ten sites on UNESCO’s tentative list.
35. Burundi is not LGBT-friendly.
In 2009, Burundi passed a law making homosexuality a crime punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison.
36. Burundians are big on drumming and dancing.
Drumming and dancing is an important part of the Burundian cultural heritage and has taken on an almost spiritual meaning. Drum performances were traditionally a part of particular ceremonies, such as births, funerals, and the enthronement of kings.
Drummers usually wear white, red, and green, the colors of the Burundian flag, and their performances are accompanied by dancing, heroic poetry, and traditional songs. Drumming and ritual dance are often used to convey a cultural, political, and social message.
The dancers dress in leopard fur and headdresses leap, twist, and spin around the drummers with tremendous energy, dancing with as much skill, expressiveness, and roaring excitement as the drummers. This form has its roots in the dances of the royal court in the time of the Tutsi kingdom. In 2014, UNESCO added the ritual dance of the drum to their intangible cultural heritage list.
37. Capital punishment is illegal in Burundi.
Burundi abolished the death penalty in 2009.