Burundi Today

The political situation in Burundi is highly unstable, with frequent acts of violence throughout the country. This instability is having a very negative impact on a country that has long been one of the poorest and least developed in East Africa.

According to both the IMF and World Bank, Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Civil wars, corruption, landlocked geography, poor education, AIDS and a lack of economic freedom have all but economically crippled the country, and today it is largely dependent on foreign aid.

The country sits at just 184 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index and 64.9% of the population are thought to live below the poverty line. Although Burundi’s largest industry is agriculture (employing around 90% of the work force), the sheer number of people living in such a small country (Burundi is the second most densely populated country in Africa) means that not enough food is produced to keep everyone fed. According to the Global Hunger Index almost half of all households are food insecure and slightly over half of the children of Burundi have stunted growth due to a lack of food.

Economically things are grim as well. The IMF expects the economy to grow by just 0.1% in 2018 (the government gives a more positive outlook), although this is still an improvement on the negative growth rate of 2016. The poor outlook can primarily be put down to the unstable political situation and a recent contraction in food production.

Culture

Burundi’s population comprises 84% Hutu,15% Tutsi and 1% Twa. Like Rwanda in 1994, Burundi has been torn apart by tribal animosities, and the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since independence. The Belgians masterminded the art of divide and rule, using the minority Tutsis to control the majority Hutus. Generations of intermarriage and cooperation went out the window, as the population was forced into choosing sides, Hutu or Tutsi. The pattern continued into independence as the minority Tutsis clung to power to protect their privileges, and marginalised the Hutu majority.

Although the recent violence hasn't been as much along ethnic lines as in the past, in mid-2017 a human rights groups reported a purge of Tutsis serving in the army, which could be setting a worrying trend for the future.

Environment

Taking up a mere 27,830 sq km, most of the country is made up of mountains that vanish into the horizon. Like its neighbour Rwanda, this is a very densely populated country and most areas that can be farmed are being utilised as such. There are three national parks worthy of the name and, at least prior to the latest round of violence, there were surprisingly healthy animal populations within them.