The civil war in Burundi finally ended in April 2009, when the last remaining guerrilla group Parti pour la LibĂ©ration du Peuple Hutu – Front National du Peuple Hutu (Palipehutu-FNL) signed a peace agreement with the country’s authorities. Around 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed as a result of the war. The number of internally displaced persons and of those who have applied for protection outside the country is estimated at 1.2 million people.

At independence in 1962, the Tuts minority secured government power despite opposition from the Hutuma majority. Since then, Burundi has been characterized by internal conflict and several periods of violence. Ethnic contradictions have been exploited in various groups’ power struggles.

In 1993, the country’s first multi-party elections were held. The winner of the election was the Hutudominated Front for the Democracy of Burundi (FRODEBU). Melchior Ndadaye was inducted as president, but was soon killed in an assault. The unrest that followed led the country into a protracted civil war.

Cautious optimism

Peace negotiations supported by Tanzania and South Africa ended with a peace treaty signed in 2000 by 17 different political groups. However, fighting continued between the government forces and guerrilla groups that were still outside the peace treaty. In 2003, a final ceasefire was signed between the government and the largest hutugilja, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). Following a referendum in February 2005, a new constitution was passed, and elections were held in August of that year. CNDD-FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza became the country’s new president.

The 2005 election gave cause for optimism. Burundi became a pilot country for the UN peace commission, and the international community committed to major investments in social and economic development. At the same time, great political turmoil has continued to affect the country in recent years. However, ethnicity appears to be a less important political dividing line than before.

The peace agreement with Palipehutu-FNL was an important victory for Nkurunziza. The FNL dropped its weapons and was registered as a political party. Its soldiers and leaders were integrated into the security forces and the state administration.

Limited democratic space

Several active human rights organizations, journalists and other media players have made their mark in recent years. In particular, the establishment of new independent media players has led to an increased focus on corruption and human rights violations. This has been positive for the democratization process. But recently, Burundian authorities have started a review of all NGOs, and it is feared that this is an attempt to gain greater control over the regime’s critics.

At the end of 2009, the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC), a network of 146 national NGOs, saw the authorities withdraw their registration, forfeiting their right to operate for a period. This happened after FORSC had requested that the murder of Ernest Manirumva in April 2009 be investigated. Manirumva was a corruption hunter from the Anti-Corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (OLUCOME).

In the period July 2008 to April 2009, Human Rights Watch documented 120 politically motivated arrests. The arrests of the leader of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) party, Alexis Sinduhije, union leader Juvenal Rududura and journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu in 2008 are among the best known. Especially Sinduhije’s case received a lot of attention and resulted in extensive international pressure. He was released in March 2009, the other two somewhat later.

In September 2009, an independent electoral commission was established and a new electoral law was passed. The election was to be held in the period May – September 2010. However, many opposites live in fear of their own lives. A new law prevents parties from holding meetings without prior permission, and around the country supporters of the opposition are being harassed by CNDD-FDD’s “youth militia”.

Weak justice sector

In addition to politically motivated threats of violence and little progress in the work against corruption, violence against women, including sexualized violence, is a widespread problem. In 2007, the UN documented at least 2,700 rape cases. 34 percent of these were for children under the age of 12. Lack of criminal prosecution is also a widespread problem, and the justice sector is suffering from political interference. The UN criticizes its leaders for lack of political will to address the challenges in the justice sector and for failing to follow up on the obligations to establish a national human rights commission.

However, a new criminal law was passed in April 2009. The law contains several improvements in relation to human rights: Abolition of the death penalty, ban on torture, higher punishment for most forms of sexual violence, an increase in the criminal age of 13 to 15 years. On the other hand, homosexuality is criminalized for the first time in Burundi’s history.

Rural poverty

Poverty increased during the Civil War. 35 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 1993, in 2006 this had increased to 67 percent. In 2007, the country’s income was at. capita among the world’s lowest, $ 110. Population density is among the highest in the continent. The World Bank estimates that economic growth of 8 percent is necessary for 2012 to return to the same level as before the war. Rural poverty is estimated to be twice as high as urban.

In 2009, Burundi was the ninth poorest country in the world, according to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). Infant and maternal mortality rates are highest in Africa. Life expectancy is just under 60, and less than 60 percent of the population can read and write. However, some important political measures have been taken in recent years. In 2006, the authorities announced free schooling for all Burundian children. Health services for pregnant women and children under five have also become free.

Agriculture accounts for 90 percent of the country’s employment, but many lack access to arable land. Besides coffee and tea, Burundi today has no significant export, and the country is struggling with a significant trade deficit. Substantial oil reserves are to be found along Lake Tanganyika, and the World Bank believes that these, in addition to the development of the tourism sector, should be Burundi’s priority areas. With membership in the East African Economic Community, it is also hoped to improve conditions for regional trade.

Many challenges

There is a great deal of excitement associated with the election and not least what will happen in the future. In addition, it is estimated that there are over 200,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Some of these have applied for, and obtained, a Tanzanian residence permit. For those returning, conflict over land rights is a major challenge. The same applies to the situation of the many internally displaced refugees. Another major challenge is the demobilization and reintegration of former soldiers. In a country with high unemployment and widespread frustration, especially among young men, combined with alarming numbers of unregistered small arms, it can jeopardize peace and young democracy if key actors do not immediately find a solution to these challenges.

Country facts:

Area: 27,834 km2 (45th largest)

Population: 8 million

Population density: 290 per km2

Urban population: 10 percent

Largest city: Bujumbura – approx. 429 000

GDP per capita: 138 USD

Economic growth: 4.5 percent

HDI Position: 174

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