Burundi

Beautiful Burundi has been blighted by a generation of ethnic conflict, but with the advent of peace, this charming country may at long last be able to put its dark past to rest. A tiny little nation of soaring mountains and languid lakeside communities, Burundi is sandwiched between the African giants of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Tanzania. The scenery is stunning and the welcome warm, and it may once again begin to receive a trickle of travellers as the word gets out that the war is over.

The steamy capital Bujumbura has a lovely location on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and just outside the city are some of the finest inland beaches on the continent. Ask the old Africa hands about Burundi before the war, and it is the sort of place they go misty-eyed about and hark back to the life of the lotus-eaters. Sadly there has been no lotus-eating for most Burundians during more than a decade of violence.

Many of the upcountry attractions have been off limits for years, but the stunning scenery and warmth of the Burundians more than compensates. Choose from the southernmost source of the Nile, the ancient forest of Pare National de la Kibira or the spot where Stanley was reputed to have uttered those timeless words 'Dr Livingstone I presume?'.

Intertribal tensions have devastated the country since independence in 1962 and there is always a chance things could kick off again. It is a young peace, so make sure you do your homework before embarking on an adventure in Burundi.

FAST FACTS

Area 27,830 sq km

ATMs There are no ATMS; come with cash

Borders DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania

Budget US$20 a day

Capital Bujumbura

Languages Kirundi, French

Money Burundi franc; US$1 = BFM040

Population 8 million

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Seasons Wet (mid-March to mid-May, October-January); dry (mid-May to mid-October, mid-December to mid-March)

Telephone Country code 1^)257; international access code SI 00

Time GMT/UTC +2

Visas Required by all; US$40 for one month

Bujumbura (p613) Dine out in style before dancing the night away in this city where people love to live it up. Saga Beach (p614) Hit the best inland beaches in East Africa for some fun in the sun.

Source Du Nil (p616) Journey to Burundi's very own pyramid, marking the southernmost source of the Nile at Kasumo. Being in Burundi (opposite) Enjoy the novelty of being pretty much the only tourist in the country.

La Pierre de Livingstone et Stanley (p616) Visit the rock where those fateful words 'Dr Livingstone I presume?' were uttered.

CLIMATE & WHEN TO GO

The climate in Burundi varies widely depending on whether you are in the hot and steamy lowlands around Lake Tanganyika, where temperatures average 30°C, or the more mountainous north, where the usual temperature is a much milder 20°C.

ITINERARIES

Two Weeks It is hard to talk of itineraries in such a small country with a long history of civil war. Most people do a hit and run on Bujumbura (p613), entering via Rwanda. Assuming peace holds, it is likely travellers will continue south along the shores of Lake Tanganyika to link up with Gombe Stream National Park (p781) in western Tanzania.

TRAVEL IN BURUNDI

Burundi was engulfed in civil war for more than a decade and although progress towards peace has been steady, it remains a potentially unstable country in an unstable region. Travel to the capital Bujumbura was safe at the time of research, as was the main road north to Rwanda. Assuming things continue to stabilise, Burundi may once again find itself on the overland map of Africa, as it is a great way to link Uganda and Rwanda with western Tanzania. Check, double check and triple check the latest security situation before heading into the country or travelling anywhere beyond Bujumbura.

HOW MUCH?

Cheap hotel room US$20 to US$40

Plate of garnished brochettes US$2

Internet access per hour US$1 to US$2

Local newspaper US$0.50

100km bus ride US$2

LONELY PLANET INDEX

1L petrol US$1

1L bottled water US$0.50

Primus beer US$1

Souvenir T-shirt There aren't any!

Grilled goat brochettes US$0.50

HISTORY

The original Burundians were the Twa Pygmies, but they were soon squeezed out by bigger groups. First came the Hutu, mostly farmers of Bantu stock, from about 1000 AD. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the tall, pastoral Tutsi from Ethiopia and Uganda arrived. Relations were cordial, but the Tutsi gradually subjugated the Hutu in a feudal system similar to that of medieval Europe.

At the end of the 19th century Burundi and Rwanda were colonised by Germany, but after WWI the League of Nations mandated Rwanda-Urundi to Belgium. Taking advantage of the status quo, the Belgians ruled through the Tutsi chiefs and princes. The establishment of coffee plantations, and the resulting concentration of wealth in the hands of the Tutsi elite, provoked tensions between the two tribal groups.

Independence Days

In the 1950s a nationalist organisation based on unity between the tribes was founded under the leadership of the mwami's eldest son, Prince Rwagasore. But in the lead up to independence he was assassinated with the connivance of the colonial authorities, who feared their commercial interests would be threatened if he took power.

Despite this setback, it appeared that Burundi was headed for a majority government following independence in 1962. But in the 1964 elections, Mwami Mwambutsa refused to appoint a Hutu prime minister, even though Hutu candidates were the clear winners. Hutu frustration boiled over, and Hutu military officers and political figures staged an attempted coup. A wholesale purge of Hutu from the army and bureaucracy followed.

In 1972 another large-scale revolt resulted in more than 1000 Tutsi killed. The Tutsi military junta responded with selective genocide: any Hutu with wealth, a formal education or a government job was rooted out and murdered, often in the most horrifying way. After three months, 200,000 Hutu had been killed and another 100,000 had fled the country.

Stalemate

In 1976 Jean-Baptiste Bagaza came to power in a bloodless coup. During the Bagaza years, there were some half-hearted attempts by the Tutsi government to remove some of the main causes of intertribal conflict, but these were mostly cosmetic.

Bagaza was toppled in September 1987 in a coup led by his cousin Major Pierre Buy-oya. The new regime attempted to address the causes of intertribal tensions yet again by gradually bringing Hutu representatives back into positions of power in the government.

Civil War Breaks Out

Buyoya eventually bowed to international pressure and allowed multiparty elections in June 1993. These brought a Hutu-dominated government to power, led by Melchior Nda-daye. But he was assassinated by a dissident army faction in October. The coup failed, but in the chaos that followed the assassination, thousands were massacred in intertribal fighting.

In April 1994 the new president, Cyprien Ntaryamira (a Hutu), died in the infamous plane crash that killed Rwanda's President Habyarimana and sparked the planned genocide there. Back in Burundi, both Hutu militias and the Tutsi-dominated army went on the offensive. No war was actually declared, but at least 100,000 people were killed in clashes between mid-1994 and mid-1996. In July 1996 the former president, Pierre Buyoya, again carried out a successful coup and took over as the country's president with the support of the army.

Peace talks staggered on during the conflict, mediated first by former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere and later the revered Nelson

Mandela. A breakthrough came in April 2003, when President Buyoya handed over power to Hutu leader Domitien Ndayizeye and both sides promised to work towards elections. Tragically, the conflict had already claimed the lives of about 300,000 Burundians.

Burundi Today

In 2004 the UN began operations in Burundi, sending more than 5000 troops to enforce the peace. Parliamentary elections were successfully held in June 2005 and the former rebels, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), emerged victorious. FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza was sworn in as president in August. One rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), remains active in the country, but they are now fighting their former allies and a Hutu majority government. The country is finally on the road to stability and all sides need to embrace the spirit of national unity to bring Burundi back from the brink.

CULTURE

Like Rwanda to the north, Burundi has been torn apart by tribal animosities. However, like most conflicts, it is more about politics than people, and it is the people that end up the victims of political manipulation. The Belgians masterminded the art of divide and rule, using the minority Tutsis to control the majority Hutus. The population was forced into choosing sides, Hutu or Tutsi.

Unlike Rwanda, Burundi debates its divisions. In Rwanda, there are only Rwandans, and the history is being reinterpreted in the spirit of unity. In Burundi, there are Hutus and Tutsis, and they work together in political parties and drink together in bars and discuss their differences. With two very different approaches to the same problem of ethnic division, both countries could learn a little from each other.

Burundi is more Francophone than any other country in the region, and city dwellers take their siesta seriously. Shops and businesses shut down from noon to 3pm. Do as the locals do and save some energy for the evening.

Out in the countryside, most of the people are engaged in farming, at least when they have not been fleeing the civil war as refugees in neighbouring countries. Coffee and tea are the main export crops.

PEOPLE

Burundi's population comprises 84% Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa Pygmies. Although the stormy relations between Hutu and Tutsi dominate the headlines, it is the Twa who have had the roughest deal, their forests stripped by successive outsiders.

ARTS & CRAFTS

Burundi is famous for its athletic and acrobatic dances. Les Tambourinaires is the country's most famous troupe and they perform all over the world. Their performances are a high-adrenaline mix of drumming and dancing that drowns the audience in a wave of sound and movement.

ENVIRONMENT

Rwanda may be the 'land of a thousand hills', but Burundi isn't far behind. The north is a stunning landscape of dramatic peaks and deep valleys, best experienced on the bus between Bujumbura and Kigali. Many of the mountains are carved with gravity-defying terraces that plunge into deep valleys below and farmers somehow eke a living out of the land. To the southwest, it levels out along the shores of lovely Lake Tanganyika and the capital, Bujumbura, is on the northern tip of this vast lake.

FOOD & DRINK

Bujumbura is a contender for gastronomic capital of East Africa. Brochettes (kebabs) and frites (hot potato chips or french fries) are a legacy of the Belgian colonial period, but there is also succulent fish from Lake Tanganyika. When it comes to drink, Burundi is blessed with a national brewery churning out huge bottles of Primus and a very drinkable version of Amstel.

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