Burundi: Briefing Kit and Directory 2003


Country Profile:Republic of Burundi

Capital Bujumbura
Size 27.834 Km2
Population (Growth) 6.847.009 (Population Growth 2.38%) 2001 *Estimate
Head of State Major Pierre Buyoya
Currency Burundi Franc 1056.40 francs =US$1 (www.mbendi.co.za/)
Official Languages Kirundi, French (Swahili along Lake Tanganyika and in Bujumbura)
Main Religious Groups Catholic 62%, Protestant 5%, Indigenous Beliefs 32%, Muslim 1%
Main Ethnic Groups Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1%
Administrative Divisions 16 provinces and the Capital (Bujumbura): Bubanza, Bujumbura Rural, Bururi, Cankuzo, Cibitoke, Gitega, Karuzi, Kayanza, Kirundo, Makamba, Muramvya, Muyinga, Mwaro, Ngozi, Rutana, Ruyigi.
Independence 1 July 1962 (from UN Trusteeship under Belgian administration)
Burundi is a landlocked, resource-poor country with an underdeveloped manufacturing sector. The economy is mainly agricultural with roughly 90% of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture. Its economic health depends on the coffee crop, which accounts for 80% of foreign exchange earnings. The ability to pay for imports rests largely on the vagaries of the climate and the international coffee market.
Agriculture - Products Coffee, cotton, tea, corn, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, manioc, beef, milk
Industry - Products Blankets, shoes, soap, cloth, sugar
Natural Resources Nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum, vanadium
GNP per capita US$145 (1998) External Debt US$1.12 billion (1999)
GDP (2001 est.) US$662.4 million (2001 est.) GDP real growth rate 12.2% (2002 est.)
Feeding Centres 233 (203 SFC, 25 TFC)
(UNICEF, July 2002)
Feeding Centre Beneficiaries 23,721 (SCF), 725 (TFC)
(UNICEF, July 2002)
Food Aid Beneficiaries 360,000 monthly average Poverty Incidence 70% (40% in 1994)
Under-5 Mortality Rate 190/1,000 live births Life Expectancy at Birth 40.6 years (UNDP 2001)
Total Fertility Rate 6.16 children / woman Maternal Mortality Rate 800-300/100,000 live births (UNICEF 2002)
HIV Infection Rates
Urban/ Rural
(UNICEF 2001)
18.6% / 7.42%
Vaccination Rates
BCG 70% DTC 64%
Polio 68 % Measles 54%
Illiteracy rate 52.0% (UNDP-DHD 2001)
School Net Registration Rate 1992-93 : 52% 2000 : 48% (UNICEF 2002)
Burundian Refugees 839,420 (353,000 UNHCR registered, 200,000 in permanent sites, 200,000 in Tanzania)
IDPs in Sites 387,469 in 226 sites Refugees Inside Burundi 27,036 (June 2002)

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)


The OCHA Burundi Office was established in 1995 reflecting the UN desire to approach the Great Lakes Region from both a national and regional perspective. OCHA provides primary support to the UN Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator, and facilitates the coordination among various actors involved in humanitarian response in Burundi.

The Office maintains regular contact with the Ministry for Repatriation, Reintegration and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, foreign aid missions, UN agencies, 70 international and 53 local NGOs.

OCHA Burundi has primary carriage for the coordination of emergency relief activities for the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Burundi. The office is also mandated with a wide range of important information dissemination and humanitarian security responsibilities. In response to the insecure operational environment, measures have been set in train to enhance UN communication facilities, security arrangements and prepare inter-agency contingency plans according to scenarios including potential mass movements, internally and in neighbouring countries.

OCHA promotes good practice and provides policy guidance on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, facilitating information sharing among all partners. Facilitation of the IDP coordination mechanisms is central to OCHA's operation in Burundi.

Key OCHA Coordination Meetings

Contact Group

Geographical and thematic coordination issues are dealt with directly through a weekly Contact Group Meeting coordinated by OCHA Burundi. Local and international NGOs, United Nations agencies and other humanitarian actors form the core of this information sharing, issue raising and coordination forum. Meetings are held at the OCHA Office, Bujumbura, 3rd Floor, every Wednesday morning at 9:00am.

Permanent Framework (CPCPPD)

An innovative Permanent Framework for the dialogue on Displaced Persons was established in February 2001. The joint initiative is a product of the Government of Burundi and the Humanitarian Community, represented by the former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Burundi, Mr Georg Charpentier. The humanitarian community is able to access, and work with the Permanent Framework, which meets at the ministerial level and is chaired by Human Rights Minister and Humanitarian Coordinator.

Follow-up Technical Framework (GTS)

The Follow-up Technical Group (GTS) was established simultaneously. GTS meetings are conducted at the technical level, co-chaired by the Burundi Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Follow-up Technical Group is able to ensure that decisions taken at the Framework level are actioned. Ministerial participation at the Technical Group level is commonplace. Both structures provide an important venue for information exchange, and expertise. The GTS meets weekly every Monday afternoon at 3:00pm.


The OCHA Regional Support Office for Central and East Africa (RSO-CEA), based in Nairobi, covers the following countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Its scope of activities encompasses both natural disasters and complex emergencies. The objective of the RSO-CEA is to improve the overall humanitarian response in the region.


The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) was established in 1992, and renamed as part of the United Nations Secretary-General's reform programme in January 1998. More importantly, its effectiveness was enhanced by a sharper focus, more active inter-agency cooperation, and better support of field coordination. In mid-January 2001 the Secretary-General appointed Kenzo Oshima (Japan) as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, succeeding Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, who continued his assignment as Special Representative of the Secretary-General in East Timor.

Burundi Background - a silent emergency

Burundi symbolises "the silent emergency" in which so many Africans live and die.

The facts speak for themselves:

  • Almost one in six Burundians continue to live away from their homes.

  • Almost 388,000 people are living in 226 camps inside their own country, constituting the largest internally displaced population in the Great Lakes region.

  • There are an estimated 639,000 Burundian refugees in neighboring countries, plus a further 200,000 people who have been living in Tanzania since 1972.

  • Every month, approximately 385,000 people in Burundi receive food aid.

  • Monthly, over 24,000 people are treated for malnutrition in 233 therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres around the country. Their number would probably be much higher if all the needy had access to centres. More than 71% of the people living in camps inside Burundi have no access to the minimum daily requirement of drinking water.

  • The Human Development Index for Burundi in 2001 has dropped to the third worst ranking country in the world (171/173), reflecting the accumulated impact of deteriorating indicators such as vaccination coverage (down from 83% in 1993 to 54% in 2001), primary school attendance (down from 70% in 1993% to 48% in 2002) and an under-five mortality rate of 190 deaths per thousand live births.

  • The hostilities have claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000 people, primarily civilians, since 1993.

It is understandable that the complex dynamics of Burundi puzzle the outside world. It is indeed a country of paradox. While six of the country's 17 provinces remain troubled by conflict and hold high numbers of displaced, the other 12 are ready for, and in desperate need of, rehabilitation and development. Yet even in these provinces, the relative stability is periodically disrupted by bursts of violence, leaving uncertainty and fear in their wake.

Nine years into the crisis, under-funded relief agencies struggle to keep the displaced and dispossessed alive, while other organisations call for a more fundamental look at the underlying causes of conflict. As in most complex emergencies, however, quick fixes are more visible, less political and more easily funded. In Burundi this trend has led to a neglect of the structural problems that have fuelled the violence of the last three decades, creating an environment in which peace seems continuously, and hopelessly, beyond reach.

Historical perspective

Burundi is not the result of colonial negotiation but an historic nation-state that has evolved over many centuries to its present form. Burundi's borders are shaped by natural features, including several rivers and the vastness of Lake Tanganyika to the west.

Most people who read the newspapers probably have a vague notion that Burundi's problem is the same as Rwanda's, an ethnic conflict fuelled by the ancient tribal hatred between two peoples. Readers may also have an idea that one of these tribes is much smaller than the other but has nonetheless ruled almost continuously for hundreds of years. This is, unfortunately, a facile reading of Burundian history.

After centuries of functioning as a feudal kingdom, Burundi was colonised first by Germany in 1899 and then ruled by Belgium under a League of Nations mandate, from 1916 to 1962, when Burundi gained its independence. Failing to appreciate the delicate traditional balance that existed among various groups of Burundians, those in power proceeded to distort it, favoring some groups over others. Partially as a result, the decades following independence were characterised by frequent changes in power among elites within one group as well as recurrent violent uprisings, most dramatically in 1965, 1969, 1972, 1988 and 1993. The violence in 1972 was particularly savage, killing an estimated 250,000 people. Up to 150,000 Burundians fled the country in terror, seeking refuge in neighboring Tanzania, where the vast majority remain to this day.

From 1962 to 1993, Burundi passed through three republics, each one ended through non-constitutional means. In 1976, Jean-Baptiste Bagaza seized power from Michel Micombero (President of the first Republic); in 1987, Major Pierre Buyoya deposed Jean-Baptiste Bagaza (President of the second Republic). Major Buyoya, President of the third Republic, initiated a political reform process, which in March 1992, led to the adoption of a new constitution and introduction of a multiparty system with a directly elected president and national assembly.

In June 1993, the first democratic presidential election since independence was held, with Melchior Ndadaye emerging as winner. Major Buyoya handed over power peacefully. Both because he was elected and because he was Hutu, the inauguration of President Ndadaye marked an important milestone in Burundian history. It gave rise to hope for long-term stability and broader political participation, as Burundi was hailed internationally as a symbol of peaceful democratic transition in Africa.

This fledgling hope was, however, abruptly shattered when President Ndadaye was assassinated on October 21, 1993, only four months after gaining power. The assassination unleashed yet again years of accumulated fear, resentment and rage. Massacres carried out in retribution for the killing of the President led to reprisals undertaken by the army to regain control of the countryside. Tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands of others fled their homes and country, mainly into Tanzania and former Zaire. Those lucky enough to escape with their lives lost nearly everything else, including their homes, their land, their livestock and their future.

After the assassination, Burundi was ruled by a succession of weak and divided administrations and unrest continued. In March 1996, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights went as far as to refer to the ongoing civil war embroiling Burundi as a "genocide by attrition". Just four months later, Major Buyoya returned to power through a bloodless putsch, which was widely condemned by neighboring countries. They responded by imposing economic sanctions, which remained until January 1999.

Under the leadership of the former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, and after two-and-a-half years of negotiations in Arusha, nineteen Burundian political parties signed a peace agreement on 28 August 2000, in the presence of United States President, Bill Clinton, and many regional Heads of State. Signed under intense pressure from the Facilitator, former South African President, Nelson Mandela, and from regional leaders, the agreement did not include a ceasefire agreement, although it did establish three protocols (I, II, IV) which establish a clear programme, including the creation of a transitional government, national assembly and senate, tasked with advancing the cause of reconciliation, democracy and reconstruction.

Political instability and widespread insecurity since the outbreak of the crisis in 1993 have caused a prolonged disruption in the social and economic development of Burundi.

Whereas the country could boast progress both in social and economic terms up to 1992, since 1993 many of its social and economic gains have regressed to the level of at least some 30 years ago. Life expectancy averaged 44 years in 1970, reached a peak of 53.8 in 1992 and relapsed to an average of 40.6 in 2000. The future of the country looks bleak when taking into consideration the under-five mortality rate of 190/1000 births, an immunization coverage rate of 48%, illiteracy rate of 52% with school attendance at 52%. Over 525,000 people are internally displaced with over 800,000 living as refugees in the region. The majority of the remaining population of some 6.8 million suffer from insufficient access to food, basic social services and limited economic opportunities. The proportion of the population living under the poverty threshold is 58.2% in the rural areas and 66.8% in the urban zones. Ever since the outbreak of the crisis, the country has been racked with violence and serious human rights violations. These violations resulted in the imprisonment of over 8,000 people (including 160 children), 90% of which are still awaiting trial.

While the National Transitional Government has made progress in restoring security in many parts of the country, the combined depredation of continued fighting, especially in the five western provinces and Bujumbura Rural, and economic stagnation, continues to sap morale and erode vital support for the middle ground.

Regional Background


In recent years, conflict in the Great Lakes has been truly regional in scope, character and consequence. Neighbouring states have either been actively involved in the long-running wars - and particularly that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) - or directly affected as populations move across borders to flee fighting. Armed non-state actors have also taken advantage of the porous borders, either seeking safe havens, protection or advantageous alliances with other states in order to continue their rebellion or pursue other ends. A regional perspective is, thus, essential not only in analysis of the conflict in the region, but also in efforts to address it. Without a truly regional peace that resolves issues fundamental to the conflict both within and between countries, the cycle of violence will never be broken and the humanitarian needs will continue to grow.

Even if regional peace is achieved, it will have an impact on the region and its needs. Inter alia, it would potentially involve the mass return to their homes of displaced populations, some 3,393,497 internally displaced persons and 1,214,236 refugees, their reintegration and the recreation of their livelihoods in countries shattered by years of war.


  • Inter-state regional conflict, armed rebellion, civil strife, and a culture of violence and impunity.

  • Chronic and sudden natural disaster in the form of drought, flooding, volcanic and seismic activity, leading to food insecurity, property destruction, land erosion and conflict over natural resources.

  • Violations of human rights and disregard of humanitarian principles. Humanitarian access to populations in need is often curtailed.

  • Massive displacement of populations, both within and across borders - placing an ever-increasing burden on host populations.

  • Limited access to basic health care, as well as high morbidity and mortality rates for preventable diseases and the spread of epidemics, including cholera and meningitis.

  • High levels of HIV/AIDS infection, devastating the health of populations, and destroying economic/social capacity.

  • The vulnerability of populations in the region, even if not displaced, as a result of insecurity, poverty, and limited access to economic or social resources and structures. This vulnerability may be further increased as countries face the challenges of demobilisation and reintegration.

  • Critical food needs caused and exacerbated by insecurity, natural disaster, displacement, lack of markets, disrupted supply lines and poverty.


The gradual implementation of peace agreements for Burundi and DRC has renewed hopes for peace, yet the fragility of the current regional situation cannot be overemphasised. Even as Uganda and Rwanda withdraw troops from DRC, inter-Congolese fighting continues between the Government and the rebellion. In addition, inter-ethnic tension continues to flare into violence in the east. Conflict in northern Uganda between Government and Lord's Resistance Army forces has escalated and an early resolution of this seems unlikely. Rwanda continues to grapple both with its socio-economic needs and issues of reconciliation, and these may only be exacerbated in 2003 by the reintegration of its returning forces from DRC.

In Burundi, despite the implementation of the Arusha accords, no conclusive peace is expected unless a full ceasefire can be achieved. The 'changeover' in the National Transitional Government may also prove a catalyst of further conflict. At the same time, some repatriation is expected to continue of Burundian refugees from Tanzania. Tanzania itself is increasingly frustrated at the presence of significant numbers of refugees on its territory and the implications of this for social and economic infrastructure, as well as security, in affected areas. Mass repatriation to Burundi cannot be ruled out entirely. The possibility of natural disaster in the region also remains high: volcanic and seismic activity in Goma is being monitored, as is the potential impact of El Nino.

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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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